Bridge rebuilding in Ashland County
Construction crews work to rebuild a bridge along Wisconsin Highway 13 damaged during a 2016 flood that washed out roads and bridges in parts of northern Wisconsin. The state could receive funding for bridges, roads and other infrastructure improvements as part of President Joe Biden's proposed infrastructure bills being debated by Congress. (Photo courtesy of the Ashland County Highway Department)

Two bills proposed by Biden would help Wisconsin address a range of issues, according to a Democratic state representative and GOP state senator.

Two Wisconsin lawmakers and a White House official said Tuesday that infrastructure funding included in two bills being debated by Congress would go a long way toward addressing a range of much-needed improvements across the state. 

Those bills—a $1 trillion proposal to address more traditional projects such as roads and bridges, and $3.5 trillion to invest in climate change, green energy jobs, and public transit—are necessary to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint and help transition the nation’s economy, said David Kieve, director of public engagement for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Action on those issues is needed sooner than later, he said.

“Can we afford to wait? We’re saying the answer is no,” Kieve said during a virtual event sponsored by WisPolitics.com to discuss the infrastructure bills and their impact in Wisconsin.

Neither of the bills has garnered the approval of Congress, and debate has intensified in recent weeks as Democratic lawmakers are split about how much to spend and Republicans remain opposed, especially to the bill with the larger price tag that includes funding for priorities like Medicare expansion, community college subsidies, and tax increases on wealthy Americans.  

President Joe Biden speaks about infrastructure at the Flatirons campus of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, in Arvanda, Colo. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Wisconsin lawmakers Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) and Rep. Greta Neubauer (D-Racine) said funding included in the infrastructure bills would help the state address such issues as lead in municipal water systems and broadband service that is lacking in many parts of the state. Infrastructure dollars could create good-paying jobs in the green energy sector that would benefit workers in both urban and rural areas, they said.

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Wisconsin is taking steps to address lead pipe replacement and other infrastructure initiatives, “but if the feds give us more money … it will go faster,” Cowles said.

Neubauer said her constituents tell her they back infrastructure spending because they understand the need for those investments in Wisconsin’s future. Infrastructure funding spelled out in the federal bills would allow the state to finally address longstanding problems such as lead in drinking water and would address the adverse impact of climate change and infrastructure shortfalls on people of color, she said.

Those dollars also would help the state’s economy continue to transition from legacy manufacturing industries to more green energy sector jobs, Neubauer said. 

Given the extreme need of infrastructure needs of all sorts, “we don’t have any option but to take action,” Neubauer said. “I absolutely believe that this infrastructure [funding] is necessary.”

Cowles said he wants to ensure  the state spends all the infrastructure funding it may receive “as efficiently as possible” and that he supports ongoing audits of those expenditures. While the Republican-led Legislature is addressing some of the state’s infrastructure needs, it lacks enough money to keep up with the demand for repairs, he said.

In addition, initiatives outlined in President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan included in the $3.5 trillion bill would help Wisconsin become more resilient to the growing impacts of climate change that are hurting farmers, businesses, schools, and others. The spending plan also would include funding for new jobs in the green energy sector, such as building solar panels, and would also provide money for a transition to electric vehicles and charging stations. 

“The jobs of the future are in clean energy,” Kieve said. “The president wants to lay the groundwork so those jobs are here.”