Dems, Chamber of Commerce and engineers celebrate historic investment in infrastructure and jobs

DeSantis disses it, saying FL doesn’t get enough; TaxWatch cites flaws at state level

By: - December 17, 2021 7:00 am

Credit: Niklaus Yager, Wikimedia Commons, 2021

The federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law approved by Congress promises to deliver more than $20 billion in federal funding to Florida over the next five years to upgrade roads, bridges, airports, seaports and water systems. The funds also would expand availability of high-speed internet and electric-vehicle charging stations.

Florida Democrats are celebrating passage of the infrastructure package, saying it marks the first major federal investment in infrastructure, which will help Florida businesses and create good new jobs.

All Florida Republicans in Congress voted against it. Gov. Ron DeSantis has been critical.

“I think it was a lot of pork barrel spending from what I could tell,” DeSantis said last month at a press conference shortly after the infrastructure package was approved in Congress. He did not provide examples or specifics then or since. As recently as last week, his press secretary said DeSantis remains critical of the package.

“Governor DeSantis has criticized the federal infrastructure bill for not giving Florida its fair share compared with other states,” Press Secretary Christina Pushaw told the Phoenix.

“Florida is set to receive about $20 billion out of the $550 billion in new spending. Florida has 6.7 percent of the population of the United States, so it would be more equitable for our state to receive around that percentage of funding,” Pushaw told the Phoenix by email. “We’re concerned that Florida is being penalized for enacting fiscally responsible policies that have helped our economy – and the U.S. economy overall, since a large proportion of the new jobs reported nationally are in Florida.”

An analysis by Florida TaxWatch released Thursday says Florida would gain $19.1 billion from the infrastructure package, based on preliminary state estimates released Aug. 4. Updated state estimates released Nov. 18 show Florida receiving at least $20 billion.

The bipartisan funding formula that governs most of the infrastructure package is negotiated in Congress, which has nearly equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, and it is not apportioned on population. If it were based on population, Florida would receive a larger share of the money, says TaxWatch, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research institute and government watchdog.

Likewise, if the formula were based on population, Texas and California also would get more than is allocated to them in the infrastructure package, according to the TaxWatch analysis.

Population is not key to funding

Instead, the funding is based on a complicated matrix that reflects Florida’s long-time status as a “donor state” because its high-income population sends more in taxes to the federal government than the state gets back in federal funding. according to TaxWatch.

In part, Florida hurts itself in terms of its share by rejecting federal grant funding to states for programs such as Medicaid expansion, the report says.

“While this is certainly a lot of money, it appears Florida — as has historically been the case — will not receive anything close to its fair share,” says the TaxWatch report. “When Florida does not get its fair share of federal assistance, our tax money goes to subsidize programs in other states. That is exactly what has been happening in Florida for many, many years. ”

TaxWatch has long recommended that Florida’s congressional delegation intervene to help Florida draw down more in federal dollars, and it is critical of state lawmakers for policies that TaxWatch argues unnecessarily leave federal funding on the table.

“While grant formulas may not be beneficial to Florida, the state also lacks effective and proactive mechanisms for maximizing the drawdown of available federal funds, which is costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars in federal assistance,” the new report says.

“Florida has a history of lower-than-average revenue and spending at the state level, and this is part of the reason for lower-than-average federal funding. A current example is Florida’s decision to forego Medicaid expansion in 2015 and the increased federal funding share that went with it,” the report says. “It was estimated that expansion would draw down more than $3 billion in additional federal dollars to Florida annually. An alternative to the federal Medicaid expansion (SB 2512) that was passed by the Florida Senate but rejected by the House in 2015 would have brought in more than $1.5 billion in additional federal funds annually.”

Here is a link to the Federal Highway Administration explaining how the infrastructure funds for roads, bridges and other transportation are allocated to the states. (Note that the package includes other sources of funding, too.)

In summary, the surface transportation formula administered by the Highway Administration sets a state’s “base apportionment” at a level proportionate to its share in the prior year; ensures that at least 95 percent of gasoline taxes collected from the state’s highway users is returned to that state; and ensures that each state gets at least 2 percent more in funding this year than last year.

To the extent that Florida was a donor state last year, it will be much the same this year, TaxWatch said, noting that it has long recommended that Florida’s congressional delegation work to change that.

Meanwhile, the American Society of Civil Engineers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are among the organizations crowing about the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. They have commented for years that American infrastructure is deteriorating, hurting the economy and impeding development. (The engineering society issued the nation’s 2021 infrastructure a grade of “C-,” based on condition, operation and maintenance, safety, resilience, capacity to meet current and future demands, and other criteria. It issues grades every four years.)

The society issued Florida an overall grade of “C” – with highest marks (“B”) for bridges, ports and solid waste infrastructure, and lowest marks for schools (“D+”), levees (“D+) and dams (“D-.”) It commended Florida for above-average condition of its bridges and airports.

“The landmark bipartisan infrastructure law is welcome news for all Floridians. … Rebuilding our infrastructure is especially important to Florida, where 408 bridges and over 3,564 miles of highway are in poor condition,” U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Tampa, said in a statement.

Funding for four key states compared

Here are some key numbers from the nation’s four most populous states, according to data from the White House, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the 2020 Census. These figures are for formula-based funding; additional funding will become available in competitive grants.

— New York, population 20.2 million: formula funding $29.1 billion;

— Florida, population 21.5 million: formula funding $20.1 billion

— Texas: population 29.1 million: formula funding $37.3 billion

— California: population 39.5 million:  formula funding $46.9 billion.

New York and California, which widely use public transit in their densely populated major cities, each received about $8 billion more in transit funding than did Florida or Texas. Not counting that funding, New York and Florida are much closer in their allocations, as are Texas and California.

In terms of roads and bridges:

— New York: $11.6 billion for 7,292 miles of roads; $1.9 billion for 1,702 bridges;

— Florida: $13.1 billion for 3,564 miles of roads; $245 million for 408 bridges;

— Texas: $26.9 billion for 19,400 miles of roads; $540 million for 818 bridges;

— California: $25.3 billion for 14,220 miles of roads; $4.2 billion for 1,536 bridges.

All of the four most populous states are to receive $100 million to expand access to high-speed internet. Florida and New York, with comparable populations, will receive comparable funding to enhance cybersecurity, at $28-29 million, while California and Texas, with greater populations, will get $40-42 million, according to the Nov.18 state-by-state fact sheets released by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Florida also is slated to receive $198 million over five years to expand its limited network of charging stations for electric vehicles. In Texas, the allocation for EV-charging stations is $408 million; California, $384 million; and New York, $175 million.

New airport funding announced

Florida, Texas and California each are slated to receive at least twice as much in funding for airport improvements as New York, according to the FAA.

Delta airplane. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

On Thursday, the FAA announced first-year allocations from the infrastructure package for airports, including $44 million for Orlando International, $42.5 million for Miami International, $32.8 million for Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International, $21.7 million for Tampa International, and $11.8 for Southwest Florida International, in Fort Myers, plus smaller allocations for many other airports around the state.

Also, Florida is home to eight major ports and 1,540 miles of inland waterways, making it a state likely to be among the largest recipients of $17 billion in new ports and waterways funding nationwide.

States that are vast in geography but small in population receive more funding per capita for roads and bridges in part because highways serve not only locals but people throughout the nation who rely on those transportation arteries for cross-country transportation of goods, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

The business-focused U.S. Chamber of Commerce raves about the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and its benefits for the U.S. economy and the job market.

“Enactment of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill includes transportation funding formulas that ensure all states receive back at least $1 for every dollar their citizens pay into the Highway Trust Fund. The legislation includes $118 billion in general funds to ensure each state receives at least a 30 percent increase in funding over the previous five-year period,” said Ed Mortimer, vice president of transportation infrastructure at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a statement for the Phoenix.

“It is past time we brought our infrastructure into the 21st century,” the Chamber says in an analysis on its website. “It is the largest federal investment in both public transit, clean drinking water, and wastewater infrastructure in American history. It is the largest investment in passenger rail since the creation of Amtrak and makes the single largest dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the interstate highway system.

“The bipartisan infrastructure bill will benefit all Americans by creating millions of jobs, improving global competitiveness, and adding trillions of dollars in economic growth at a time when we need it most.”

While DeSantis, a Republican governor, has been quoted dissing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law as a “pork barrel” package and “bad juju,” the Democratic Governors Association disses DeSantis.

“Ron DeSantis is opposing this bipartisan and popular plan because he cares more about his own partisan politics than Florida families,” said DGA spokesman Sam Newton in a press statement. “When Florida is filled with ribbon-cuttings to break ground on new, important projects from this plan, we look forward to DeSantis explaining to voters why he opposed every single one.”

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper.