Alliance Sees New England Renewal In Infrastructure Bill

BOSTON (State House News Service) — With President Joe Biden kicking off his effort to push a large infrastructure package through Congress, climate, labor and social activists around New England are looking to seize the moment as a once in a generation opportunity to invest in priorities that would reshape the economy and public health.

The White House on Wednesday introduced a roughly $2.25 trillion infrastructure package that would repair 20,000 miles of roads, fix 10,000 bridges and invest billions in clean water, electric vehicles and energy efficiency in a bid to make the electric grid carbon-free by 2035.

The president has proposed to pay for his plan over 15 years with major changes to the corporate tax code, including an increase in the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent and measures designed to prevent multinational corporations from reducing their tax liability by sheltering profits overseas.

"With America's favorite pastime almost upon us, it's opening day for infrastructure," U.S. Sen. Ed Markey said, joining members of the Renew New England Alliance on Wednesday to highlight an agenda that includes decarbonizing the electricity and transportation sectors, upgrading and building new energy efficient housing and creating a network of community gardens and rural farms to grow healthy, local food.

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Many of those priorities are reflected in what the White House is calling the president's American Jobs Plan.

"The $1.9 trillion relief package was a good start but we have to be honest with ourselves. There's so much more that we can do to make sure we have a real recovery. To make sure that everyone has housing, food, clean water and breathable air," said Rhode Island state Rep. Brianna Henries.

Markey, who has supported the coaltion goals at the national and state level, said Wednesday he hoped to work with the White House to build a final jobs and recovery plan that "meets the scale and scope of this crisis."

"It's a strong start," said the Malden Democrat. "It's a historic infrastructure investment. But there's always going to be more to be done. I'm working with the Biden administration to continue to advocate to push for a bold and ambitious final package, to put forward a plan that meets the scale and the scope of this crisis and sets bold and aggressive standards for our recovery."

As a followup act to the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, the infrastructure and jobs bill that Biden planned to discuss during an event in Pittsburgh dovetails with many of the initiatives already underway in Massachusetts.

Finding revenue to invest in crumbling roads and bridges across the state has been a years-long and unresolved debate on Beacon Hill, interrupted by the pandemic. Energy officials have also said that in order to reduce emissions fast enough to comply with the the state's new net-zero emissions climate law the state will have to retrofit a million homes in the next decade and put 750,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2030.

Biden's plan would invest $174 billion in the electric vehicle market in an effort to make the vehicles more affordable to consumers and to create incentives and grant programs for state and local government and the private sector to build 500,000 charging stations by 2030.

The proposal calls for a $621 billion investment in transportation infrastructure, including $85 billion for public transit, and $111 billion to replace every lead pipe in America and upgrade drinking water and sewer systems. There is also money to expand broadband internet access and $213 billion to retrofit more than two million homes so that they are energy efficient and cost less to live in.

Markey said the package would "create millions of jobs, and help our country rebuild following this crisis, all while centering climate solutions at the heart of the investment."

"It's going to take organizers and activists and leaders like each of you to renew New England and renew America. We make this America a reality if we do the work," Markey said.

Vermont Congressman Peter Welch joined Markey on the morning call, and said energy efficiency has been a focus of his career on Capitol Hill. Welch said reducing carbon emission through the building sector by retrofitting homes and building new energy efficient housing will account for 40 percent of the reductions needed to reach the president's goals.

"That's local people, local economies, local jobs, local organizing," Welch said.

Roxana Rivera, the vice president of 32BJ SEIU, said environmental justice is important to the labor community as well. She said many workers live in coastal cities plagued by flooding and poor air quality, contributing to high rates of asthma and making the COVID-19 pandemic worse.

"We need to address the intersecting climate, racial justice and economic crises that the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare and we need good union jobs in the green economy," Rivera said.

In Massachusetts, the Renew Alliance has partnered with lawmakers from Boston to Worcester to introduce legislation that aims to retrofit 1 million homes over the next decade with energy efficient heating systems and other upgrades.

A separate bill would support rural and urban farming to produce more locally grown food and expand food security programs like the Healthy Incentives Program, which supports families receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits by helping them buy more fruits and vegetables.

The two bills are being called the Building Justice with Jobs Act and the Food Justice with Jobs Act, and are an attempt to partner solutions to climate change and food insecurity with the creation of new jobs, sponsors said when they introduced them in February.

Coalition leaders said both initiatives fit with the state's objective of becoming carbon neutral by 2050, which was part of the climate law Baker signed last week.

"We need solutions that offer good unions jobs to help our economy while also improving the air in our most vulnerable communities," said Rep. Maria Robinson, a Framingham Democrat, at a press conference in early February.

Robinson sponsored the Building Justice with Jobs Act in the House, along with Rep. David LaBoeuf of Worcester. Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton is the Senate sponsor.

U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley has said she supports the goals of the Massachusetts Renews Alliance, which would undoubtedly get a boost if Congress can pass Biden's infrastructure plan.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she wants to pass the "American Jobs Plan" by the Fourth of July, according to the New York Times, but already the bill has encountered resistance.

Former President Donald Trump, who continue to hold sway over Republican members of Congress, tore into the tax components of the proposal, saying it would put the country at a competitive disadvantage to China, while some Democrats from blue states are saying they won't support an infrastructure bill that doesn't eliminate the Trump-era limits put on state and local tax deductions.

Business groups are also starting to line up against Biden's corporate tax reforms to pay for the plan.

Business Roundtable, an influential interest group representing top corporate CEO, estimates the infrastructure need in the U.S. at between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion, but it said it supports user fees to pay for such an investment, of which businesses would pay their share.

"Business Roundtable strongly opposes corporate tax increases as a pay-for for infrastructure investment. Policymakers should avoid creating new barriers to job creation and economic growth, particularly during the recovery," said the Roundtable's president Joshua Bolten.

The group also said it would like to see Congress use "regular order process" to pass a bill, which means leaders would have to round up Democratic and Republican support for anything to pass.

Written by Matt Murphy/SHNS

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