Maine Compass: Build Back Better the next step in investing in America and its people

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History was made this week when President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. This legislation will make life better for hundreds of thousands of Maine residents, create a generation of good-paying union jobs and economic growth, and position the United States to win the 21st century.

Maine was literally in the room where it happened, with Gov. Janet Mills attending the signing, thanks to the unrelenting work from Maine’s entire congressional delegation.

As a member of the Maine Legislature, I chaired the state’s Transportation Committee. There, I first learned that infrastructure in Maine — and across the country — has suffered from a systemic lack of investment. From constituent calls about the condition of our roads to rankings from organizations like the American Society of Civil Engineers, which gave Maine a C- grade, it was clear that this disinvestment hurt our economy.

I served on the committee with then-state Rep. Jared Golden, now representing the 2nd District in Congress. We spent hours listening to public testimony about the very real consequences faced by Maine businesses and families due to the inaction at the federal level. From our time working together, I know that Jared understood the critical infrastructure needs that Maine faces, and since in Congress, he has made sure that help is finally on the way.

Rep. Golden played an integral role in negotiating and advocating for this bipartisan infrastructure agreement. Starting last April, he participated in a two-day summit with other members of Congress, and a bipartisan group of senators, and governors. In June, he and his colleagues in the Problem Solvers Caucus unveiled a bipartisan infrastructure framework. Their framework was the basis of the blueprint agreed to by the White House and Senate negotiators two weeks later.

And ever since, he has been steadfast in his commitment to ensure the largest long-term investment in our infrastructure and competitiveness in nearly a century finally became law. The impacts for Maine are significant.

As a result of this legislation, Maine will finally be able to repair and rebuild our roads and bridges with a focus on climate change mitigation, resilience, equity, and safety for all users. The state is on track to receive $1.3 billion for highway programs and $225 million for bridge replacement and repairs.

Through the pandemic, however, it has become clear that modern infrastructure is more than just road and bridges; it’s also the digital highways that keep businesses connected and goods moving. In Maine, 15% of households do not have an internet subscription, and 3% of Mainers live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure.

Thanks to Rep. Golden, under this legislation Maine will receive a minimum allocation of $100 million to help provide broadband coverage across the state, including providing access to the at least 42,000 Mainers who currently lack it. Additionally, 310,000 people in Maine will be eligible for the Affordability Connectivity Benefit, which will help low-income families afford internet access.

This bill will also deliver the largest-ever federal investments in public transit and clean drinking water, in passenger rail since the creation of Amtrak, and in bridges since the construction of the highway system.

But as much good as this bill does, Congress must do more to meet the moment. That’s why it is so important that Congress pass another bill, the Build Back Better Act. This legislation builds on the infrastructure bill by making critical investments in clean energy jobs, health care for seniors, the child tax credit, affordable housing and other investments necessary to help families and business recover from the pandemic and prepare our economy for the future.

While Rep. Golden and I were in the Legislature, we recognized that our responsibility to our constituents was about more than just transportation. That’s why we trusted our colleagues and listened carefully before taking a vote. We thought about the needs of our district and the impacts of each bill. Only when we had the full picture did we feel confident in pressing that yay or nay button.

Today, with his full consideration of the Build Back Better Act, Rep. Golden is staying true to that approach. I’m hopeful that when it’s time to vote, he’ll see that Congress has the opportunity to build on the transformational investments in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal to create even more good-paying union jobs, lower costs for working people, cut taxes for millions of American families, and make our tax system fairer.

 Andrew McLean served in the Maine Legislature from 2012-2020 and is a resident of Gorham.

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