SWFL poised for big gains from Biden infrastructure plan

President Joe Biden takes the podium at the Carpenters Pittsburgh Training Center in Pittsburgh, Pa., to announce his American Jobs Plan yesterday, March 31. (Image: C-SPAN)

Southwest Florida stands to gain substantially from President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan, unveiled yesterday, March 31, in Pittsburgh, Pa.

The plan proposes $2.2 trillion in infrastructure investments across the nation, funded by hikes in the tax rates of corporations and high-income individuals.

Southwest Florida’s Everglades is one of only two locations specifically mentioned by name in the Plan. The other is the Great Lakes.

“President Biden is calling on Congress to invest in protection from extreme wildfires, coastal resilience to sea-level rise and hurricanes, support for agricultural resources management and climate-smart technologies, and the protection and restoration of major land and water resources like Florida’s Everglades and the Great Lakes,” according to a White House fact sheet explaining details of the vast proposal.

The Plan weaves climate change solutions and environmental protection measures throughout its fabric, issues of particular importance to environmentally sensitive Southwest Florida.

“It’s not a plan that tinkers around the edges,” Biden said in his speech yesterday unveiling the proposal. “It’s a once-in-a generation investment in America, unlike anything we’ve seen or done since we built the Interstate Highway System and the Space Race decades ago.

“Is it big?  Yes.  Is it bold? Yes.  And we can get it done,” he said.

Aspects of the Plan that affect Southwest Florida include:

  • Upgrading and modernizing US drinking, wastewater and stormwater systems

Southwest Florida is particularly subject to pollution and contaminants in all its waters, particularly those flowing from Lake Okeechobee and down the Caloosahatchee River. While work is already underway on the projects of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, the American Jobs Plan would boost funding and support for other water-related measures throughout the region.

  • Making infrastructure more resilient

Southwest Florida’s vulnerability to hurricanes, which are increasing in intensity, as well as sea level rise and salt water intrusion have been well documented. The American Jobs Plan emphasizes resilience against climate change throughout its proposals.

According to the White House fact sheet, the Plan “will invest in vulnerable communities through a range of programs, including [the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s] Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program, [the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s] Community Development Block Grant program, new initiatives at the Department of Transportation, a bipartisan tax credit to provide incentives to low- and middle-income families and to small businesses to invest in disaster resilience, and transition and relocation assistance to support community-led transitions for the most vulnerable tribal communities.”

  • Putting the energy industry to work plugging orphan oil and gas wells and cleaning up abandoned mines

Southwest Florida has 395 abandoned oil wells in Lee, Collier and Hendry counties, Dee Ann Miller, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, told reporter June Fletcher of the Naples Daily News in 2014.

A Princeton University study found that “As casings corrode and old concrete used to plug them shrinks, the wells create pathways that allow methane, carbon dioxide, brine and other fluids to migrate ‘from deep subsurface formations into shallow groundwater aquifers.’”

This threatens Southwest Florida’s fragile source of clean, drinkable water. The Biden plan designates $16 billion for cleaning up the kind of capped wells, as well as abandoned mines, present in the region.

  • Mobilizing the next generation of conservation and resilience workers

The Plan proposes spending $16 billion on a new Civilian Climate Corps to “work conserving our public lands and waters, bolstering community resilience, and advancing environmental justice,” which will also create new jobs—including in Southwest Florida.

  • Modernizing schools and early learning facilities

With Southwest Florida’s population growing, new schools have been built or are planned, especially in Lee County. The Plan will support new facilities and upgrade older ones.

  •  Upgrading Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals and federal buildings

The plan provides $18 billion for upgrades and modernization to VA facilities like those in Fort Myers and Cape Coral.

  • Expanding access to long-term care services under Medicaid and supporting caregiving jobs

Given Southwest Florida’s high proportion of aging seniors, the Plan’s proposal to expand access to home and community-based services to the elderly will have a particular impact. This includes providing benefits to at-home care workers who currently lack them.

In addition to these aspects that directly affect Southwest Florida, the American Jobs Plan envisions improvements and repairs to roads, bridges, tunnels and all forms of transportation. It also proposes building out broadband Internet access, extending it to underserved and rural communities. It would upgrade and expand affordable housing throughout the country.

The journey begins

Debate on the Plan and reaction to it are just beginning. The tax hike proposals, coming separately under the rubric “The Made in America Tax Plan,” which close a wide variety of loopholes and discourage companies from using offshore tax dodges, is already generating intense discussion that will likely rise to ferocious denunciation by Republicans and anti-taxers of all stripes.

“I start with one rule: No one — let me say it again — no one making under $400,000 will see their federal taxes go up.  Period,” Biden said in Pittsburgh.  “This is not about penalizing anyone.  I have nothing against millionaires and billionaires.  I believe in American capitalism.  I want everyone to do well.” 

In his speech he also reached out to Republican politicians: “Historically, infrastructure had been a bipartisan undertaking, many times led by Republicans,” Biden said. “And I don’t think you’ll find a Republican today in the House or Senate — maybe I’m wrong, gentlemen — who doesn’t think we have to improve our infrastructure.  They know China and other countries are eating our lunch.  So there’s no reason why it can’t be bipartisan again. The divisions of the moment shouldn’t stop us from doing the right thing for the future.”

Biden also claimed that he had overwhelming support from grassroots registered Republicans.

In the short term, the Plan’s proposals need to be turned into concrete legislation and begin making their way through the House of Representatives. The whole process will likely take months, although Biden is pushing to get it done as quickly as possible.

Next up will be Biden’s American Families Plan, which will be unveiled in the days ahead.

Coming next: SWFL reactions to the American Jobs Plan

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

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