WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s administration on Monday amplified its push for a $2.3 trillion infrastructure package with a release of state-by-state breakdowns that show the dire shape of roads, bridges, the power grid and housing affordability across the nation.
The state summaries, which assigned Missouri a grade of C-minus, painted a decidedly bleak outlook for the world’s largest economy after years of repairs being deferred and delayed.
They suggest that too much infrastructure is unsafe for vehicles at any speed, while highlighting the costs of extreme weather events that have become more frequent with climate change as well as dead spots for broadband and a dearth of child care options.
Following the release of the report, Biden met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers in an effort to assure them he’s sincere about cutting a deal. But the president faces strong opposition from Republicans, many of whom question what he counts as infrastructure and how he intends to pay for it.
“I’m prepared to negotiate as to the extent of my infrastructure project, as well as how we pay for it,” Biden said. “It’s going to get down to what we call ‘infrastructure.’”
Among the four Republicans on the White House guest list Monday were Sens. Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Reps. Garret Graves of Louisiana and Don Young of Alaska. Democrats on the list were Sens. Maria Cantwell of Washington and Alex Padilla of California and Reps. Donald Payne Jr. of New Jersey and David Price of North Carolina.
By releasing state-by-state data, Biden’s team was hoping to make the case to the public that the bill is essential.
Drawn from an array of private and public data, the reports show there are 7,300 miles of highway in Michigan alone that are in poor condition. Damaged streets in North Carolina impose an average yearly cost of $500 on motorists. Iowa has 4,571 bridges in need of repair. There is a roughly four-in-10 chance that a public transit vehicle in Indiana might be ready for the scrap yard. Pennsylvania’s schools are short $1.4 billion for maintenance and upgrades.
Missouri, the report says, has 2,190 bridges and more than 7,576 miles of highway in poor condition, and that the poor condition of the state’s roadways has increased commute times by nearly 6% across the state since 2011.
Most states received a letter grade on their infrastructure. West Virginia earned a D. So did Biden’s home state of Delaware. Of the states rated, the highest grade went to Georgia and Utah, which each notched a C-plus. The lowest grade, D-minus, went to the territory of Puerto Rico.
The administration is banking that the data will confirm the everyday experiences of Americans as they bump over potholes, get trapped in traffic jams and wait for buses that almost never correspond to published schedules. There already is a receptive audience to the sales pitch, and the strategy is that public support can overcome any congressional misgivings.
“We don’t have a lot of work to do to persuade the American people that U.S. infrastructure needs major improvement,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on Fox News Channel’s “Fox News Sunday” ahead of the reports’ release. “The American people already know it.”
Republican lawmakers have been quick to reject the infrastructure proposal from Biden. They say just a fraction of the spending goes to traditional infrastructure, as $400 billion would expand Medicaid support for caregivers and substantial portions would fund electric vehicle charging stations and address the racial injustice of highways that were built in ways that destroyed Black neighborhoods.
The reports give some data to back up their argument that more money should be spent on roads and bridges. Biden’s plan would modernize 20,000 miles worth of roadways, but California by itself has 14,220 miles of highway in poor condition.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, for example, has been a strong proponent of spending more money on roads and bridges, and has backed raising the state’s 17-cent per gallon gasoline tax, which is among the lowest in the nation. But Parson has said he’s concerned Biden’s package includes spending that isn’t traditional infrastructure.
“I don’t think it’s just about roads and bridges. I wish it was, you know, I would say that, because that’s something we really want to do,” Parson said. “You know, if we get the opportunity to get some federal money to build bridges and build highways and airports and rail, that’s been a priority of mine from Day One.”
But, Parson added, “At some point Missouri has to, we have to stand on our own feet. And we can’t be relying on the federal government all the time for everything. We need to take that responsibility on our own shoulders.”
A 2018 statewide referendum to increase the gas tax was shot down by voters, but legislative efforts to raise the tax are underway in the Missouri Senate.
Republican lawmakers also object to funding the package by increasing the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28% and increasing the global minimum tax, among other tax changes including stepped-up IRS enforcement being proposed by the Biden administration.
Missouri Senate President Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, said Monday, “President Biden should spend less time sending out grade cards and more time concerned about the grade card he’ll receive from Missouri voters if he continues to push Missourians to adopt his liberal agenda and progressive wish list that saddles our grandchildren with trillions of dollars of added national debt disguised as ‘infrastructure.’”
“This is a massive social welfare spending program combined with a massive tax increase on small-business job creators,” Wicker said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “I can’t think of a worse thing to do.”
Yet the state-by-state reports make clear that many of the people Wicker represents could benefit from the package, an aspect of the Biden effort to engender the backing of voters across party lines.
Mississippi needs $4.8 billion for drinking water and $289 million for schools. Nearly a quarter of households lack an internet subscription, and a similar percentage lives in areas without broadband. Mississippians who use public transportation have to devote an extra 87.7% of their time to commuting.
Mississippi’s infrastructure received a grade of D-plus.
Kurt Erickson of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
Updated at 3:45 p.m.