By Angela Vullo
Oct 27, 2020–In late August 2019, I penned an article called “Will 2020 Bring Winds of Change?,” citing an MSNBC four-part docuseries called “American Swamp,” which included a segment on infrastructure entitled “Bill to Nowhere.” Today, I can happily report that things have changed. We now have H.R. 6422, a “Bill to Somewhere,” which would establish a National Infrastructure Bank.
In that August 2019 article, I described the series in some detail:
The segment detailed both the crisis condition of our national infrastructure and the gridlock in Washington which has failed to address this crisis. In one hour, Katy Tur and Jacob Soboroff presented a devastating picture of the condition of the country, beginning with the dire situation in New York City – from the morbid stench of the old Penn Station, to the over 100 year-old Portal Bridge and Hudson Tunnels connecting New York and New Jersey, where the electric cables in the tunnels could explode at any given moment, and do.
Then they dealt with a series of breakdowns of no less importance around the nation: the collapse of the Minneapolis bridge in 2007 that killed 13 people and injured 145; the Brent Spence bridge in Cincinnati, which connects Ohio and Kentucky and is losing concrete daily; the crisis of the Oroville Dam spillway in California; and the most recent water disaster in Newark, New Jersey, where citizens are being offered bottled water, to protect them from the unsafe levels of lead in the drinking water. Newark, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg.
The article was written in the hope that 2020 would bring action by the Congress to deal with our need for much overdue infrastructure funding. Despite attempts by Congress to bring discussion to the forefront, the talks hit a brick wall, and once COVID entered the scene, all attention got diverted. However, not all of our lawmakers dropped the ball.
On March 31, 2020, Congressman Danny Davis (D-IIlinois) introduced HR 6422, “The National Infrastructure Bank Act of 2020,” which would establish a $4 trillion national infrastructure bank. This was precisely the right response to the crisis. There are at least three other infrastructure bank bills in the U.S. Congress, but none of them meet the requirements of what is needed to fix the country. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates $4.6 trillion just to get up to a state of good repair. However, due to recent job and business losses, the needed funding is probably even greater.
Due to the timeliness of the Davis bill, support has been growing across the country, from elected officials, labor leaders, and grassroots organizations. HR 6422 can be a “Bill to Somewhere.” It is large enough to solve all of the nation’s infrastructure needs, and it can solve the partisan divide, especially since it creates no new debt and doesn’t add to the deficit because, like Alexander Hamilton’s First National Bank, it is capitalized with existing Treasury bonds.
As the bank would direct funding into infrastructure building only, including investments into high-speed rail, water, broadband, the electrical grid, schools, hospitals, affordable housing, and more, it would significantly shift the economy away from the 1 per cent at the top to the lower 99 per cent. It would have a strong labor orientation and would result in rebuilding the middle class and unions. Labor provisions would include:
- Buy American: “None of the financing provided by the Bank may be used for an infrastructure project unless all of the iron, steel, cement and manufactured goods used in construction, alteration, maintenance, repair or equipping of the project are produced within the United States.”
- Davis-Bacon: “All laborers and mechanics employed by contractors and subcontractors on infrastructure projects funded directly by or assisted in whole or in part by and through the Bank pursuant to this Act shall be paid wages at rates not less than those prevailing on projects of a character similar in the locality as determined by the Secretary of Labor . . .”
- Project Labor Agreements: “In States in which project labor agreements are authorized or encouraged recipients of financial assistance made available under this Act must comply with such agreements.”
The bank would also have a strong youth orientation, as it would include provisions for “job creation, including fair and responsible employment practices, and a workforce development to train workers in new skills, including by union apprentice programs to train new hires. A preference for projects in areas of high unemployment, or disadvantaged communities, including a workforce development plan to train workers in new skills.”
In addition to funding infrastructure, the bank would solve some of our urgent social disparity issues. The bill calls for investments into “disadvantaged communities,” “where a median household income below 80 percent of the State nonmetropolitan median household income” and where “persistent rural poverty, in which 20 percent or more of the population has been living below the poverty line for the last 30 years.” “Create specific plans for all financial assistance provided by the Bank, including subsidy programs for disadvantaged communities and project targeting for disadvantaged business enterprises . . .”
Along with social issues, the Bank addresses civil rights. “The Bank, along with contractors and subcontractors on infrastructure projects funded directly by, or assisted in whole or in part by the Bank, shall comply with title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as to hiring and awarding contracts to build projects.”
As days go by, a wind of discontent continues to blow, while infrastructure rots, unemployment rises, wages stagnate, the income gap widens, and social unrest festers. Meanwhile, our lawmakers say, “You don’t need to convince me of the problem.”
If that is the case, then what exactly is the problem? Why has nothing been done? Let’s hope that 2021 will bring a change we can count on.
 Cosponsors as of today are Seth Moulton (D-Mass), Bobby Rush (D-Ill), and Debbie Dingell (D-MI).[better_recent_comments]