San Francisco Chronicle: Biden’s infrastructure deal could bring billions to California – if it can pass the House

By Tal Kopan

WASHINGTON — President Biden’s signature infrastructure deal expected to soon pass in the Senate could mean a windfall for California, to the tune of tens of billions of dollars.

But the negotiated bipartisan deal also leaves out some of the priorities the Bay Area’s lawmakers had fought for in the House, and it’s unclear if they are willing to accept the bill without them.

According to estimates released by the White House, the infrastructure bill would bring $25.3 billion for highways, $4.2 billion for bridges and $9.45 billion for public transportation over five years to California. The state would also be able to apply for more from pools of money for individual projects.

The bill would also support expanding electric vehicle charging networks, with $384 million to the state over five years and the opportunity to apply for more, the White House said. Another $100 million would come to California to boost broadband internet access, plus more than 10.6 million Californians would be eligible to receive discounts on their broadband bill, the White House estimated.

There are also pots of money for high-priority issues in California, including water management and wildfire resiliency. Democratic Rep. Josh Harder of Turlock (Stanislaus County) touted the bill containing $8.3 billion for water infrastructure in the West, with $1.15 billion for water storage specifically.

“It would be the single largest investment in storage we’ve ever had,” Harder said, saying he’s confident the Central Valley and surrounding area would have a good chance of getting some of that money for its water needs.

Another $73 billion in the bill will support improving the nation’s energy grid, including new transmission lines. Many of California’s recent fires have been sparked by electrical grid equipment. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., specifically had some of his proposals included to put $5 billion over five years toward preventing blackouts and fires sparked by utilities by hardening the grid to extreme weather events, a priority in the Bay Area.

Padilla also touted his provisions to support zero-emissions school buses and to replace lead pipes and service lines nationwide.

There are also a few goodies specific to Northern California tucked into the 2,700-page bill. Lake Tahoe would get $17 million for restoration and to fight invasive species. Another $24 million will go to water quality and wetlands restoration efforts in San Francisco Bay. Both were requested by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who also had a hand in the water provisions and a measure to increase federal firefighter pay.

But the Senate deal, which was painstakingly negotiated with the White House to get to the all-important 60 votes necessary to advance legislation in the 50-50 divided upper chamber, doesn’t include much of what the Democratic majority in the House passed last month. That bill made greater investments and policy changes to combat climate change, a major priority for local lawmakers, and included hundreds of millions of dollars in specific earmarks for the Bay Area and nearby regions.

Those earmarks included improving Highway 37 in the North Bay, Caltrain crossing upgrades in the South Bay, and BART renovations in the East Bay. It is possible those projects could be eligible for funding under the Senate deal, but they would have to apply for it.

It’s not a given the House will accept the Senate bill, which is expected to pass this week, although the White House has been heavily promoting it.

“Last time I checked, the House of Representatives was a co-equal part of the U.S. Congress,” Concord Democratic Rep. Mark DeSaulnier said last month regarding the House infrastructure bill.

Fremont Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna, a leader of the House’s progressive caucus, said the Senate’s deal could pass, as long as stronger climate provisions end up in a $3.5 trillion counterpart bill Democrats are expected to try to muscle through without Republican votes, which would also fund so-called human infrastructure like family leave and child care.

“If the package is gonna pass the House and not lose 30 to 40 progressive votes, it’s got to stick to that $3.5 trillion,” Khanna told reporters last week. “If you have the $3.5 trillion, and it has strong climate provisions, then I think many will support the bipartisan deal as well.”

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