DeSantis, SWFL reps’ opposition to infrastructure package threatens local benefits

A photo of the Capitol taken at sunset the night of the infrastructure bill vote by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart from his office window.

Nov. 11, 2021 by David Silverberg

Over the next five years Florida stands to receive $19.3 billion of the $1.2 trillion in infrastructure funding passed by the House and soon to be signed into law by President Joe Biden.

How much Southwest Florida receives depends on its representatives’ willingness to lobby for its share—but those representatives are dead set against the whole infrastructure initiative.

“The need for action in Florida is clear. For decades, infrastructure in Florida has suffered from a systemic lack of investment,” states an administration fact sheet on the infrastructure bill issued in April. “In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Florida a Cgrade on its infrastructure report card.”

The bill passed on Friday, Nov. 5. On Monday, Nov. 8, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) dismissed the entire initiative: “So, um, I think it was a lot of pork barrel spending from what I could tell,” he said at a press conference in Zephyr Hills, offering no details.

On Tuesday, his criticism was not that it was a pork barrel bill but that Florida wasn’t getting enough of the pork: “Is Florida being treated well in this?” DeSantis said while speaking at a news conference in Spring Hill. “Or, are they basically funneling money to a bunch of very, very high tax and dysfunctional states?”

DeSantis was referring to potential allocations to states like New York, which may get $26.9 billion or California, which may get $44.5 billion.

Southwest Florida’s representatives were dead-set against the infrastructure initiative from the beginning. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) consistently called it an “inFAKEstructure bill” and inveighed against it in every forum he could.

Two days after the bill passed at 11:24 pm, Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), tweeted: “On Friday, in the dead of night, House Democrats passed the $1.2 trillion so-called “infrastructure bill,” where only $110 billion actually goes to roads and bridges. I voted no and will continue to relentlessly oppose these dangerous bills that are destroying our country.”

As the debate proceeded, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) was in a reflective mood as he watched the sunset over the Capitol and tweeted: “Beautiful night on Capitol Hill. Meanwhile Democrats’ incompetence is on full display as they try to enact their socialist agenda on the American people.”

Given its needs and the formula for meeting them, Florida can expect to receive:

  • $13.1 billion for federal-aid highway apportioned programs and $245 million for bridge replacement and repairs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act over five years. This is based on 408 bridges and over 3,564 miles of highway in poor condition. The state can also compete for money from the $12.5 billion Bridge Investment Program for economically significant bridges and nearly $16 billion for projects that deliver substantial economic benefits to communities.
  • $2.6 billion over five years to improve public transportation options. This is based on Floridians who take public transportation spending an extra 77.9 percent of their time commuting and the fact that non-white households are 3-and-a-half times more likely to take public transportation.
  • $198 million over five years to support the expansion of an electric vehicle (EV) charging network in the state. Florida can also apply for $2.5 billion in grant funding dedicated to EV charging.
  • $100 million to help provide broadband coverage across the state, including providing access to the at least 707,000 Floridians who currently lack it. And, under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, 6,465,000 or 30 percent of people in Florida will be eligible for the Affordability Connectivity Benefit, which will help low-income families afford internet access. In Florida 13 percent of households lack an Internet connection.
  • $26 million over five years to protect against wildfires and $29 million to protect against cyberattacks. Floridians will also benefit from the bill’s $3.5 billion national investment in weatherization which will reduce energy costs for families. Over the last ten years Florida has suffered $100 billion in damages from 22 extreme weather events.
  • $1.6 billion over five years to improve water infrastructure across the state and ensure that clean, safe drinking water is a right in all communities.
  • $1.2 billion for infrastructure development for airports over five years.

Analysis: The Republican dilemma

Neither DeSantis, nor Donalds, nor Steube, nor Diaz-Balart, nor any other Republican, for that matter, can acknowledge that the Democrats’ Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will make a real, beneficial difference to America.

In part, that’s the job of any opposition party—to oppose, point out flaws and come up with counter arguments.

But now that the bill is passed and about to be signed into law, any responsible elected official is duty-bound to get as many benefits for his constituents as possible.

For Republicans, this is a dilemma.

DeSantis, a protégé of Donald Trump, is approaching infrastructure from a true Trumpist perspective. Under the former president all government functions were transactional, i.e., you had to pay to play. Trump would have used funding like that provided by the infrastructure package as a weapon to reward friends and punish enemies and would have demanded a price for his largesse. This is the way DeSantis approaches governing himself, so his inclination is to look for inequities in the program and presume himself and his state to be victims of a mafia-like shakedown.

But Biden’s package hearkens back to a time when presidents governed for the sake of the whole country, like Dwight Eisenhower’s interstate highway system. This initiative follows a neutral formula based on need to provide its benefits.

While DeSantis raised suspicions that Florida was being shortchanged and asked, “are they basically funneling money to a bunch of very, very high tax and dysfunctional states?”—i.e., Democratic states—he overlooked the fact that the second biggest chunk of change, $35.4 billion, was going to Texas, a Republican state with a governor, Greg Abbott (R), who is unremittingly hostile to Biden. The allocations are based on need, not favor.

This is an idea DeSantis seems unable to wrap his head around. The concept that a president could govern for the sake of the whole country and not just his base seems too novel for him to comprehend.

When it comes to local allocations, an area’s congressional representative should be working for the benefit of his district and all his constituents, not just his supporters.

It’s hard to imagine Donalds switching from being a rigid, ideological, warrior and right-wing mouthpiece to an effective representative who actually has an interest in his district and its welfare and is willing to work within the system to get the 19th District its piece of the pie.

(Interestingly, Donalds’ fellow Republican and member of the so-called “Freedom Force,” Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-11-NY) preferred the more pragmatic course and voted for the bill, bringing down the wrath of the Republican caucus. “I read this bill and it is cover to cover infrastructure,” said Malliotakis on Fox News. “…For an aging city like New York City, this bill was incredibly important.”)

With its growing population, Southwest Florida has plenty of needs and projects that will benefit from infrastructure funding. They range from the planned expansion of Southwest Florida International Airport in Lee County to re-engineering the Immokalee Rd.-Livingston Rd. intersection in Collier County and many more in between. There are the perennial Everglades projects, water purity efforts and the absolute, urgent need to strengthen the area for the impacts of climate change.

The same is true in both the 17th and 25th districts. But all three of the region’s representatives have locked themselves into fanatical anti-Biden poses that will make doing the real work of bringing home the bacon much more difficult, if they even have an interest in doing so.

As much as Republicans, local and national, attempt to incite a hatred of Joe Biden equal to the fear and loathing generated by his predecessor, the fact is that Biden is governing rather than ruling the country and trying to bring its benefits to all its citizens and not just his cultic devotees. If these officials would accept this and try to govern and responsibly represent their constituents in their turn, they could get the benefits to which those constituents are entitled as Americans.

However, that would require responsibility, patriotism and maturity.

So don’t hold your breath.

Liberty lives in light

(c) 2021 by David Silverberg

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