This coming Tuesday, the president will deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. Though it was delayed by a political impasse and a resulting shutdown of many parts of the federal government, this State of the Union speech comes at a particularly pivotal time in Washington. The address could be a turning point for the president and Congress toward a bipartisan bill cities, towns and villages have been seeking – a comprehensive package that rebuilds and reimagines our nation’s infrastructure.
What’s Changed in Washington
The atmosphere in Washington is different than it was just a year ago. The president will be addressing many new faces – 101 freshmen members of Congress and 10 new senators. There is also the shift in leadership in the House, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi having retaken the gavel as speaker. And, finally, the cost and disruption of the longest federal government shutdown still lingers in Washington; most policy efforts were delayed as Congressional energy was pulled into several rounds of shutdown negotiations. Even as the speech is delivered on the House floor on Tuesday, there is a deep awareness that if a deal is not reached by February 15, once again, the federal government will be shutdown.
What Cities Want to Hear
When cities are asked about their top federal priorities, infrastructure rises to the top. It’s an essential function of government that faces rising costs for repairs, as well how cities can remain competitive and build transportation, water and broadband systems that can meet the need of the future. We asked some of NLC’s most experienced and engaged city leaders about what issues they would want to hear the president address in his speech, particularly as it pertains to infrastructure and what the impact of his proposals could be to their community. Here’s what they had to say:
Councilmember James McDonald
Village of Pinecrest, Florida
“Cities want to hear about federal infrastructure partnership in the State of the Union, and in Miami-Dade, we can put that partnership to work to accelerate the Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit (SMART) plan which is moving forward with a 21-mile modern bus rapid transit system extending Metro Rail service out to Homestead, Florida. We’ve applied for a $100 million Small Starts federal grants to supplement local funds and reach the county’s $300 million investment need for the project. A working partnership with the federal government can play a vital role in the Miami-Dade area’s investment to improve our infrastructure and give our growing areas better transportation options.”
Councilmember Hattie Portis-Jones
“Addressing infrastructure is a campaign commitment that has broad bipartisan support. An infrastructure package would help my community to do more than the increasingly recurring patchwork of aging sewers and storm water.”
Controller Chris Brown
City of Houston, Texas
Population: 2.313 million
“Cities across America are facing an increasingly troublesome issue of deteriorating infrastructure with a limited ability to pay for improvements. The future of our communities is reliant upon sustainable investments in our infrastructure and neglecting this need only kicks the can down the road. I urge the president to address the need for a comprehensive infrastructure spending package in his State of the Union and I look forward to working with Congress to secure equitable, sustainable investments for all of our communities.”
Mayor Stephanie Piko
City of Centennial, Colorado
“Investment in infrastructure presents an opportunity to find common ground among all levels of government to ensure the safety and security of citizens throughout the country. Telecommunications brings people together; broadband investment and enabling community networks through public-private partnerships is a smart way to leverage resources and deploy assets efficiently.”
Councilmember Robin Arredondo-Savage
“Our cities and towns have waited too long for a clear plan to rebuild America’s infrastructure. Now is the time to invest in what communities need. The State of Our Union demands reliable transportation, water and wastewater systems including roads, highways, bridges, public transit, and water and sewer lines. We must also invest in workforce training because above all, our country’s human infrastructure is needed as a foundation for what we build. A new infrastructure deal ensures all Americans have a safe city to raise their families, the skills to provide for that family and most of all provides each of us a higher quality of life.”
Councilmember Laurie-Anne Sayles
“The shutdown of the federal government, and the overall gridlock in Washington are not helpful for local governments, because our residents depend on us putting “people over politics” and expect us to work together to upgrade aging infrastructure and maintain stormwater management facilities, while absorbing the associated costs for “middle class” working families that came to the grim realization that they were only two paychecks away from living in poverty. We must continue to keep the pressure on Congress to fund safe, reliable infrastructure for cities, towns and villages that we know improves economic development opportunities for our growing communities and fosters economic mobility for our residents.”
What We May Hear
As the president prepares to fulfill his Constitutional duty to “give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient,” it’s been widely reported that infrastructure has been on his administration’s agenda. At a White House press conference after the election, the president expressed his hope to work together with congressional Democrats on issues ranging from infrastructure to drug pricing. In the last few weeks, it has been reported that close to 20 officials – including Vice President Mike Pence, White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump, acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao – have been engaged in advising the President on refreshing an infrastructure proposal that could win Congressional support. That could reportedly translate into a very specific proposal on transportation, broadband and aviation or it could become a brief mention of infrastructure as a topic that the president and Congress could both support.
We’ll have to listen in at 9 p.m. EST Tuesday, February 5, to hear what the president has to say, but we know that cities, towns and villages across the country are looking for the national conversation to shift to infrastructure.
About the Author: Brittney Kohler is the program director for transportation and infrastructure at the National League of Cities.