Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
WASHINGTON — Billions of dollars for roads, bridges, water projects and broadband will soon flow to Utah and other Western states now that President Joe Biden signed the sweeping infrastructure bill Monday.
Biden called the plan a "monumental step forward" to rebuilding the backbone of the country without raising taxes.
"America's moving again, and your life is going to change for the better," he said before putting his pen to the legislation. "This law is a blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America."
Few Republicans in the Mountain West supported the $1.2 trillion package, including $550 billion in new spending, to shore up the nation's outdated infrastructure.
In fact, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who helped broker the deal, and Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch were the only Senate Republicans in the region to vote for the bipartisan legislation. All House Republicans in those eight states — Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico — including the four from Utah, voted against the bill.
Overall, the bill had support from 32 mostly centrist Republicans, 13 in the House and 19 in the Senate. Although some in the GOP were upset over the way those Republicans voted, they say the bill will help their constituents.
Romney attended the bill signing ceremony on the White House South Lawn along with other Republicans and Democrats who were instrumental in getting the plan passed. Lawmakers described the plan as "historic" and said it would have a positive impact on Americans for decades to come.
"I am proud to have helped negotiate this legislation, which includes historic investments that will benefit Utah and rebuild our nation's physical infrastructure," Romney said. "This legislation shows that Congress can deliver for the American people when members from both sides of the aisle are willing to work together to address our country's critical needs."
Romney said the bill is "far superior" and less costly than the Biden administration's original physical infrastructure proposal. In addition, he said it has made the Democrats' prospects of passing their "reckless social tax and spending plan" much more difficult.
Some progressives Democrats opposed the plan because they wanted it linked to the larger social spending measure that has failed to get enough support for a floor vote. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said she intends to hold a vote on Biden's $1.75 trillion safety net package later this month.
At the bill signing, Democrats urged passage of the so-called "social infrastructure" legislation.
The infrastructure bill marks a bipartisan win for Biden, whose approval has fallen since he took office. The president has called the legislation "a once-in-generation bipartisan infrastructure bill that will create millions of jobs, turn the climate crisis into an opportunity, and put us on a path to win the economic competition for the 21st century."
"This bill can be summed up by a four-letter word: jobs," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Romney was among a group of 10 senators — five Republicans, five Democrats — who helped pull the plan together.
"How many times have we heard that bipartisanship isn't possible anymore? Or that important policy can only happen on a party line?" said Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. "Our legislation proves the opposite, and the senators who negotiated this legislation show how to get things done."
Sinema said the senators in the group effectively represented the needs of the regions they represent, acknowledging Romney and Democratic Montana Sen. Jon Tester in the West.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is now law! I am proud of our bipartisan group's efforts to negotiate this legislation, which will provide historic investments that will benefit Utah and help rebuild our nation's physical infrastructure.— Senator Mitt Romney (@SenatorRomney) November 15, 2021
While he acknowledged the infrastructure deal includes many provisions that benefit Utahns, Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, said he couldn't risk that his vote would help advance Pelosi's "fiscal tragedy" in any way. The social spending plan, he said, would hurt Utah businesses, lower wages, export jobs abroad and consolidate power in Washington.
"It's unfortunate that passing a bill to tackle infrastructure also unlocks a multitrillion-dollar tax-and-spending spree that will place a staggering debt on the next generation of Americans, increase inflation, and leave our economy worse off," Rep. Burgess Owen, R-Utah, said in a statement after the House passed the bill.
While Utah's four GOP congressmen voted against the legislation, many local water managers, transportation officials, business leaders, mayors and county commissioners in the state support it.
Derek Miller, Salt Lake Chamber president and CEO, called it a historic investment that will help Utah expand and repair its roads, mitigate devastating drought conditions, fulfill critical water needs and prepare for and respond to wildfires.
"The investment in Utah's infrastructure is not only key for the local economy but also vital in the competition of the global market," he said in August.
Major Utah highlights from the bill include:
- Three billion dollars for Utah's roads and highways.
- Resources to state, local and tribal governments to improve the functioning of their traffic signals.
- A commission to study and recommend fire prevention, mitigation, management and rehabilitation policies for forests and grasslands.
- Fifty million dollars to provide water for municipal use, mitigation, hydroelectric power, fish and wildlife, and conservation.
- Two hundred and nineteen million dollars for Utah's water revolving funds.
- Investments in Utah's airports.
- Broadband expansion to unserved and underserved communities.
- Funding to bring running water to the 40% of the Navajo Nation in Utah who lack it.