The following Editorial appeared in The Daily Sun on November 12, 2021.
OUR POSITION: Southwest Florida should not get left out when they begin funding state projects with the $19 billion or so the state should receive as its share of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Not one Republican congressman (editor: from Florida) voted in favor of the $1 trillion-plus Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and Gov. Ron DeSantis railed against it as “pork barrel” spending. But they’re already in a tizzy about how to spend the cash.
DeSantis was unhappy this week that Florida will not get a bigger slice of the pie.
“I mean, they’ve saying we’re gonna get what, $20 billion, like that’s not a lot compared to how big, you know, the state is,” he said.
The bipartisan bill is meant — among other things — to help build roads and bridges and expand broadband services to areas in the nation that need help.
We can think of a couple of ideas where to spend that money, and it starts right here in our backyard.
How about River Road? Surely an infusion of cash might speed up the schedule to get expansion of that important artery on a faster track. Or, how about using some of the money to begin work to expand the remainder of River Road, between U.S. 41 and Englewood?
And, when it comes to enhanced broadband service, we can think of fewer places that could use help more than North Port and DeSoto County. Remember the problems kids had when they were forced to virtual learning from home during the pandemic? The bidding for that money will be intense since about 700,000 Floridians do not have internet service.
We called several state lawmakers along with U.S. Reps. Greg Steube and Vern Buchanan and only Steube’s office had returned our message before deadline — although we were unable to reach his staff on a return call. We were hoping they could educate us on their ability, or lack of, to help steer money our way.
The revenues can be used for things like electric-charging stations for vehicles, for airport improvements over the next five years and even to help people on low incomes pay for internet service.
The funds can make a difference in everyone’s lives if spent the right way. And, spending the right way requires transparency on the part of state officials who will be doling out the cash.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is running for governor against DeSantis, said Florida’s share of the cash could balloon to $30 Billion if the state plays its cards right. She said using the money to partner with others to get projects done is a real possibility. And, she noted, the state can draw part of another $3.5 billion tied to a national program tied to weather events that would reduce energy costs for families.
There has been the usual partisan bickering over the huge spending bill. We understand that. Just as Republicans express opposition to the bill out of concern for the national debt and how the package of perks will be paid for, we too worry the claim that pushing the burden on wealthier Americans and companies that dodge taxes may not be realistic.
But, the bill has passed and there’s no stopping the disbursement of funds as Congress and states work on a plan over the next few weeks to put the money to work where it is needed most.
That said, they can start right here in Southwest Florida.