Biden urges governors to ramp up construction plans

Josh Boak
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden urged U.S. governors on Monday to ramp up their construction plans as his administration rolled out a guidebook for accessing the nearly $1 trillion made available by the bipartisan infrastructure deal.

Biden welcomed governors to the White House on Monday as part of the winter meeting of the National Governors Association, and he cajoled them on the importance of infrastructure.

“You know how to build roads and bridges,” the Democratic president told them. “Well, we got a hell of a lot to build.”

After the meeting, a pair of governors described infrastructure as a place for bipartisan cooperation and stressed that it was important for states to be able to spend money as they see fit.

“In terms of the infrastructure, the magic word from the governors is give us flexibility, hold us accountable, but we know how to invest in infrastructure and, trust us, and we want to partner with the administration,” said Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican and chairman of the National Governors Association.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat and the association’s vice chairman, said infrastructure was “probably the topic that came up the most, was discussed the most, and where we found an enormous amount of enthusiasm.” Murphy added that he would “underscore” the significance of “flexibility … in terms of how the monies can be spent.”

Mitch Landrieu, a senior White House adviser who is supervising the infrastructure spending, said the goal of the 461-page book is to ensure that all communities have the details on how to qualify for funding, no matter their size or politics.

“It’s an absolute road map,” said Landrieu.

Leveling the playing field: The book is meant to level the playing field by making it easier for smaller cities, tribal leaders, nonprofits and faith-based groups to compete for money that usually only lobbyists know how to access. The infrastructure deal is unique in its scope as it goes beyond roads and bridges to include such initiatives as broadband internet, replacement of lead water pipes and resilience against climate change.

Administration officials assembled the guidebook quickly as the package became law on Nov. 15. Copies are available online at build.gov, though the administration is working with associations and direct contacts to make sure it reaches government officials in communities of all sizes. Landrieu said he has already spoken with 43 governors and more than 250 mayors as part of the push.

The infrastructure package includes 375 distinct programs, of which 125 are new. And while the guidebook is more than twice the size of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel “The Great Gatsby,” it’s considerably shorter and easier to navigate than the infrastructure law, which stretched for more than 1,000 pages.

About 60% of the funds are available through formula and 40% through competitive applications. Not all of the money will go out immediately, as programs operate on a five- to seven-year timeline.