Calling it an investment in the nation’s future, Sen. Jon Tester on Monday praised the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and was heading over to the White House as the president prepared to sign the sweeping legislation into law.
On a call with reporters before the ceremony, Tester said the bill will provide several billion dollars for Montana’s roads, bridges and highways, and create an anticipated 800,000 jobs nationally.
“I fought for and secured more than $3 billion for Montana’s roads, bridges and highways, which help grow our economy and create good-paying jobs by making travel and doing business more efficient across our state,” Tester said. “This legislation is going to create a whole lot of good-paying jobs across Montana, and also the country.”
More specifically, Tester said the bill includes $144 million to upgrade and rehabilitate Montana’s airports. It provides the state several hundred-million dollars for rural water projects, and more to expand high-speed Internet. Funding for wildfires is also included.
Tester worked with a bipartisan panel of five Republicans and four other Democrats to negotiate and write the legislation. He was the only member of Montana’s congressional delegation to vote for the measure.
Tester said the funding should be available soon and won’t likely require any action by the Montana Legislature or the state, which has been slow thus far in distributing funding from past relief bills to cities and counties.
“We’re using existing programs,” Tester said. “We’re at the end of our construction season in Montana and it’s getting cold at night. I anticipate it will be available by spring when it’s time to put shovels in the ground.”
President Joe Biden last week said the package would help address recent inflationary costs if the funding was properly distributed. Tester said he agreed with the statement, adding that the investments will lower costs for businesses, and the savings should be passed on to consumers.
“Getting the money on the ground as quickly as possible is going to be really important,” he said. “We’re going to be holding the agencies accountable to make sure they get this money out the door in a way that allows states like Montana to be able to utilize it.”
Tester recalled riding with his parents as a kid from their Big Sandy farm to deliver wheat. The road was rough at the time but was eventually paved. That saved his family both time and equipment.
While both parties have talked for years about a new investment in the nation’s infrastructure, that talk had been nothing more that political theater until now.
“For decades, we’ve failed to make the same kind of infrastructure investments our parents and grandparents did,” Tester said. “For 20 years, we’ve been running a 21st century economy on infrastructure that was built by my parents and grandparents. Washington has kicked the can down the road for decades, until now.”
Tester said he also supported elements of the reconciliation bill, which is pending before Congress. However, he said the final bill remains undetermined, adding that it was “still up for debate.”
“We need better, more accessible child care. We need to leverage dollars to make housing more affordable, and do something that makes sense to deal with climate change,” he said. “But we’re a long way from prime time with that bill.”