Taking time Tuesday between Senate Finance hearing sessions at which he grilled Georgia Congressman Tom Price, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown talked to reporters about Ohio’s infrastructure priorities and how his framework for rebuilding and repairing the nation’s infrastructure would create as many as 13 million jobs.
A member of the Senate Finance that was vetting Mr. Price, Ohio’s senior senator took two strafing runs at Price today, pointedly asking him if Trump lied when he said he had discussions with Price, who couldn’t confirm that those discussion had indeed happened.
When the 66-year old senator made it back to his office in the Hart Senate Building to join Youngstown Mayor John McNally IV on today’s call, he discussed a draft a proposal that he and his Democratic colleagues released today. Called “A Blueprint to Rebuild America’s Infrastructure,” the proposal starts the conversation about how the $1 trillion President Donald Trump has promised to invest in American infrastructure would improve the nation’s transportation, water, housing and community infrastructure while creating thousands of construction and manufacturing jobs in Ohio.
“President Trump promised a one trillion dollar investment in American infrastructure, built with American iron and steel and made by American workers,” Sen. Brown said in prepared remarks. “This blueprint would hold the President accountable for keeping that promise – and we stand ready to work with him to make it a reality.” Sen. Brown, up for reelection in 2018, wants to put Ohioans back to work “rebuilding bridges and roads, eliminating lead from older homes, and upgrading our water and public transit systems, and building broadband networks that businesses need to operate in today’s economy.”
Brown noted that Ohio has one of the nation’s largest interstate systems and a major public transit network that would benefit from nationwide investment in infrastructure. Among Ohio’s infrastructure assets are the following:
· Ohio has the nation’s fourth largest interstate system with 6,700 lane miles.
· Ohio’s public transportation agencies serve more than 300,000 passengers every weekday.
· Nearly a quarter of Ohio’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
· An estimated 109,000 Ohioans work in highway construction in the state.
· An estimated $14 billion will need to be spent to keep Ohio’s wastewater systems up to date over the next 20 years.
Sen. Brown, a long and strong advocate for workers in general and union workers in particular, highlighted several priorities for Ohio that could be addressed through the new proposal:
Buy America – Brown’s plan would apply Buy America to all taxpayer-funded public works and infrastructure projects to ensure that American tax dollars support American materials and jobs. Last Friday, the same day Sen. Brown said he finally met Donald Trump in person at Mr. Trump’s swearing-in ceremonies, he both introduced legislation to this effect and wrote to the new president, urging him to make this a priority in his first 100 days.
Fixing Ohio Roads and Bridges – Brown’s plan calls for $210 billion for road and bridge repairs and $200 billion for a Vital Infrastructure Program (VIP), which would direct money toward projects of critical national significance. In addition to repairing the Brent Spence Bridge in Cincinnati, which President Trump has promised to replace, Sen. Brown noted that in the 2015 transportation package, he successfully fought to include a provision that create a new competitive grant program to fund major infrastructure projects like Brent Spence Bridge.
Updating Outdated Sewer Systems – Brown’s plan calls for $110 billion to modernize outdated water and sewer systems. The senator since 2006 said he’s worked on legislation that would provide communities with grants to help make needed updates to combined sewer overflow systems. Among other benefits, it would protect Lake Erie and other drinking water from untreated waste and ensure that ratepayers do not face costly rate hikes. Brown cited a report to Congress that notes Ohio needs a more than $14 billion investment in its clean water systems over the next 20 years.
Improving Public Transportation – Brown’s plan calls for $130 billion to replace and expand rail and bus systems. Brown is a big advocate of boosting federal funding for public transit, since Buckeye public transportation agencies serve more than 300,000 passengers every weekday. Moreover, 60 percent of Ohio’s buses will need to be replaced over the next 10 years, an expense of $750 million. Sen. Brown looked to his city of residence, Cleveland, and said its rail system alone would require $400 million to replace its fleet of rail cars and repair its tracks.
Eliminating Blight & Lead Hazards – Brown’s plan includes $100 billion to address affordable housing challenges, eliminate blighted properties that bring down local property values, and remediate lead hazards that put children at risk of lead poisoning. As a leading advocate to protect Ohio children from lead exposure, Sen. Brown has worked to expand funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for monitoring and remediation.
Brown wants to strengthening the Hardest Hit Fund, which gives communities funding to prevent foreclosure and demolish blighted properties, while also advancing funding to preserve and create affordable housing and worked to strengthen the Low Income Housing Tax Credit.
Rebuilding America’s Schools – Brown’s plan includes $75 billion to help modernize America’s schools without burdening local taxpayers. The senator has sponsored a bill to give schools the ability to make needed renovations, technology updates, and repairs.
On the call, Sen. Brown wasn’t a fan of Trump’s proposal to use tax credits to finance infrastructure projects. Instead, he wants to use “real dollars” instead of tax cuts that benefit the rich. “Trump’s tax plan blows a huge hole” in the deficit, he said, saying he’s ready to work with Trump on $1 trillion to pay for it. “This makes so much sense,” he said, citing that rough roads cause drivers all kinds of costs. “It’s the high cost of doing nothing.”
Mayor John McNally IV said Youngstown, now a city of just 65,000, about half of what it was at its peak decades ago, said the city struggles daily to keep up with an EPA consent decree that means the city has to come up with $118 million in sewer rate increases to fund needed upgrades. He said the city, with its aging population, can’t afford sewer and water rate increases. Asked if he thinks Trump’s EPA should be more lenient in the future, Youngstown’s mayor said it was a topic discussed recently at a U.S Conference of Mayors, where Vice President Mike Pence was in attendance.
Sen. Brown said he asked President Trump to issue an executive order for all infrastructure to use American-made iron, steel and concrete, not just for the Keystone pipeline. Ohio’s senior senator said he wasn’t a fan of tolling, even though that’s one method to finance infrastructure.
Asked about the potential for jobs in Ohio if an infrastructure plan is enacted, Sen. Brown’s rule of thumb is that $1 billion equals 13,000 jobs, so his plan would, if implemented, create 13 million jobs nationwide.
“Every community has county roads and small bridges to repair,” he said. “We’ve tried to invest in infrastructure but we’ve been blocked by Senate Republican leadership. This is our chance, hope we can do it.”