U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne met with over a dozen Iowa business and advocacy group leaders Wednesday to discuss the American Jobs Plan, a $2 trillion infrastructure proposal by President Joe Biden. Axne, a Democrat, called the wide-ranging legislation “long overdue.”
Participants in the round-table discussion highlighted Iowa’s need for broadband internet, better water quality, improved public transportation, and federal support for biofuels.
Iowa Communications Alliance: Would federal broadband bill work alongside Iowa grant program?
Hours after Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law a statewide broadband grant program, Axne and business leaders emphasized the importance of connectivity, especially in rural Iowa.
“What we’ve all experienced in the last year with the pandemic has just highlighted that access to high-speed internet is not a luxury anymore,” said Chris Diebel, director of public affairs for the Iowa Business Council.
Biden’s proposal would allocate $100 billion to broadband efforts across the country. Dave Duncan, CEO of the Iowa Communications Alliance, asked Axne whether the federal funds would conflict with the newly approved state program.
“One of the asks that I have is we make sure that the federal programs work in conjunction with the state programs,” Duncan said, suggesting that providers could be able to layer funds from different programs.
Reynolds said Wednesday she aims to supplement state funding with federal dollars for her proposed three-year, $450 million program. The Legislature is expected to approve $100 million for the first year of the plan instead of the $150 million the governor has proposed.
Axne agreed that the bills would need to work in tandem.
“We all know that if we can coordinate from a state and local level we’re going to get a lot more done,” she said. “The problem is, we’re not really great at that, across the board.”
Biofuels takes a back seat to electric vehicles
Biden’s proposal emphasizes the introduction and integration of electric vehicles. It would allocate $174 billion to create incentives for American car manufacturers to make electric vehicles and encourage state and local governments to install vehicle chargers.
Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, noted that the bill did not focus on other clean energy solutions, like the use of ethanol and biofuels. Axne said the biofuels caucus hopes to add an infrastructure bill to change out pumps and tanks to deliver higher ethanol blends.
“I know it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what (Shaw) mentioned for electric vehicles, (but) doing that opens up whole new trading opportunities in the country,” Axne said.
She said that biofuels were an opportunity to have cleaner energy now, even as electric-vehicle development continues.
“We could be reducing greenhouse gases, honestly, by 50% if we would just put more ethanol in people’s tanks across this country… but we just don’t have that infrastructure,” she said.
$85 billion for public transportation, but Amtrak snubs Des Moines
The American Jobs Plan would allocate $85 billion for existing public transportation services, like buses and rail services. Elizabeth Presutti of the Des Moines Regional Transit authority said she was “excited” to see new funds coming in.
“Today, nearly 63% of Iowa’s buses are beyond their useful life,” she said. “The cost to bring all of those up to a state of good repair or replace them all is $161 million, and that doesn’t include the millions of dollars that would be needed in facility updates and repairs and replacements,”
The proposal would also allocate $25 billion to airports. Des Moines International Airport plans to construct a new terminal, but without outside funding, director Kevin Foley said, the project could take another 15 to 20 years.
The bill would also assign $80 billion for Amtrak rail service repairs and expand service. After the introduction of the infrastructure plan, Amtrak released a proposal to expand service, including the introduction of a station in Iowa City. Amtrak did not propose a new station in Des Moines.
“We need it,” Axne said. “We have massive business relationships with companies in Chicago, companies throughout the Midwest … I’m going to be pushing for that as well, we’ve needed it for a long time.”
Unclear how Iowa would use water quality funding
The infrastructure proposal would allocate $111 billion to replace lead pipes and modernize water infrastructure in rural America. Axne said the bill addresses “the need for clean water,” but she could not offer specifics about how the funds might be used in Iowa or to address the issue of agricultural runoff.
Des Moines Water Works CEO Ted Corrigan said the utility will face a “catastrophe” if farm pollution isn’t reduced in the Raccoon River.
Randy Pleima of the Rural Water Association asked for flexibility with the funds, including a 0% interest rate, as small communities work to replace pipes and other water infrastructure.