KCRW: Child care, fast internet, and bullet train are part of infrastructure? Sen. Alex Padilla says yes

By Chery Glaser

The debate over what exactly counts as infrastructure has been raging for months in Washington D.C. And now we may have an answer. President Biden and House lawmakers are supporting a plan that calls for $579 billion in new spending over five years on things like roads, bridges, and broadband internet. KCRW talks about this with Senator Alex Padilla.

KCRW: Does the deal go far enough?

Alex Padilla: “I’m in the camp that believes we need to do more than just what the bipartisan deal calls for. Not just [address] the deferred maintenance needs of the country, but to truly position ourselves for economic competitiveness in the years ahead. 

To address the root causes of a more inclusive economy, we need to invest more not just in transit and transportation, but in our water systems, in our electrical grid and broadband deployment, health care, education, housing, and more. 

And, of course, make historic investments in what’s referred to as the care economy. It’s really hard for parents to go back to work if there’s not a safe place to leave your child when they’re not in school. Whether it’s before-school care, after-school care, even senior care, the care economy has to be an integral strategy in our infrastructure investments, and strengthening our economy for all.”

Hard infrastructure includes roads, dams, and bridges. Soft infrastructure are services for people. You think they both should be covered by this bill?

“Whether it’s one bill or a package of two, maybe even more bills, I definitely believe we need to make significantly more investments — and broader investments than what this initial bipartisan agreement called for.”

Could funding from this bill  cover things like water storage, especially as the state is fighting drought and climate change? 

“Potentially. When it comes to water, we have to look at multiple segments of it. So storage is certainly part of the conversation. But so is, for example, replacing lead pipes. Lead pipes are bad for water, bad for public health, bad for the development of our children. Part of the infrastructure package is a reflection of a bill that I’ve introduced that calls for a historic investment, and a deadline to replace all lead water pipes in America over the course of the next decade.

I’ll also call our attention to something our Northern California neighbors are all too familiar with. And that’s the Bay Area Delta: some of the levees and other natural infrastructure in the Bay Area that protects drinking water that moves from Northern California to Southern California. If that were to be compromised, if that were to be impacted by an earthquake, it could allow a lot of sea water to impact our clean drinking water and take years and years to recover.”

How about funding for high-speed internet? 

“In this day and age, a high quality, high speed internet connection is so critical for so many aspects of our daily lives. And again, the initial Biden proposal has a historic investment in broadband. 

California has been a leader in this space, but we still have a lot more to do. I think the whole world has now realized how important it is, not just for streaming videos, not just for shopping online. But because so many of our children are participating in remote schooling, the question of who had a good internet connection and who didn’t — exacerbated the education gap that existed prior to the pandemic.”

Then there’s the LA-to-San Francisco bullet train proposal. Is Washington willing to pump money into that?

“I believe it is. I know we’ve already heard as much from President Biden. I think it’s important for Californians to remember: the fact that the high-speed rail project exists and is moving forward … is because it was supported by the voters at the ballot box years and years ago. The vision isn’t that it’s just a California high-speed rail line, but an integral piece of a higher speed rail network throughout the country.”

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