PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The ranking Democrat in the U.S. House's Ways and Means Committee wants to get to negotiations on an infrastructure bill.
President Donald Trump is proposing a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill to fix the nation's roads, bridges, airports, and railways. And that is exactly the kind of bill U.S. Rep. Richard Neal has been wanting for years. But, the Berkshire's congressional representative says negotiating how that will be paid is still on the table.
"The improvements in the public arena are our responsibility and they should be done. So when the president says he wants to do a big infrastructure program, alright let's get on to negotiating it," Neal said on Thursday during a stop at St. Mary's School in Lee. The congressman was teaching some classes at the school for Catholic Schools Week and was headed to Westfield High School to announce senior Zachary Medeiros' appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy.
Neal is particularly concerned with the ratio of how much the federal government will chip in versus how much the states will have to pay. Trump's plan calls for $200 billion from the federal government and $1.3 trillion from states, local government, and private investors. Neal, however, says he doesn't want to see the burden shift away from the federal government.
"Part of it is going to be the magnitude and part of it is going to be is that I don't think we should shift the cost to local government," Neal said.
"Infrastructure is a national responsibility and the partnership generally goes along the lines of a formula where the federal government will pay 80 percent and the states match 20 percent. I think that is a fair formula for doing it."
Neal said the country's infrastructure is in poor condition and he wants to "go big" with the infrastructure deal. There hasn't been a massive infrastructure deal in nearly a decade.
"When you go to the airports now and compare them to Europe, we should be embarrassed. The roads, the patching that takes places, there are all these modern techniques and we're still out there doing these patching exercises. You look at what we could do here with rail. Try to get off the Sturbridge exit on the Pike on a Friday afternoon," Neal said.
Neal's push for an infrastructure project hasn't changed. In nearly every instance he's visited the Berkshires, he has mentioned his desire for a large public works bill. He has repeatedly said such a bill would jump-start the economy, increase jobs, and combat downward pressure on wages.
The Springfield Democrat also says the needs to be coupled with revenue increases. In the past he has mentioned possibly raising the gas tax, which hasn't been touched since 1993.
"It is going to cost some money. But we have to figure out how to do it. That's just the reality of it. Sometimes in this business, we give people the bad news of how it's going to be done but I'm hopeful that at least we're talking about it," Neal said.
Neal feels there could be a compromise made in Congress with the Trump infrastructure bill. But, he laments the polarization of Washington, which he says often stands in the way of effective government.
"Infrastructure used to be the easiest thing to do in Congress. We were all in for the big projects. I just restored Union Station in Springfield. It took me 40 years to do it. Year after year after year we pounded away. These are the things you do," Neal said.
Neal cited Lyndon B. Johnson, Dwight Eisenhower, and Henry Clay as historic figures who were able to pass "great public works projects."
The former Springfield mayor feels similar when it comes to immigration. He said the rhetoric around the issue has made it difficult.
"We should be able to negotiate an immigration bill for the country. That's the reality of it. And the charged rhetoric does not help the argument," Neal said.
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