Rep. Brendan Boyle talks infrastructure, Build Back Better when it comes to Philly
The U.S. rep visited AL DÍA back in October and gave some insight on how pending major national legislation will affect the city.
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On Monday, Nov. 15, President Joe Biden signed his $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill into law, enacting one of the largest investments in roads, public transport, broadband Internet, and the like in U.S. history.
Back when it passed Congress on Friday, Nov. 5, the package represented the first major victory for the Biden administration in what has been a slog to get its agenda off the ground.
Along the way, the infrastructure bill was paired with a much larger budget reconciliation bill — known as the Build Back Better Act — and represents a wider variety of social spending to continue helping Americans recover and sustain following the COVID-19 pandemic.
The initial Build Back Better Act unveiled following Biden’s 2020 election victory called for more than $7 trillion of investments. As negotiations progressed throughout 2021, the number fell to $6 trillion, $5 trillion, then $3.5 trillion, before settling where it is today, said to be between $1.5 and $2.3 trillion. With Thanksgiving approaching, it is expected a House vote on the bill could come this week.
Back on Oct. 4, as negotiations ran tense on both bills, AL DÍA welcomed U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle for a conversation about them and how both bills will benefit Philly.
When it comes to infrastructure, Boyle pointed to the city’s history and aging roads and rails as a reason to get funds out.
“Given that we’re one of the oldest cities in the oldest states, we have more infrastructure needs than most other parts of the country,” he said.
Specifically, Boyle pointed to both Roosevelt Boulevard and I-95 as roadways that will see major improvements with the new federal funding.
The former has been a subject of scrutiny for decades as a known deadly road for drivers and pedestrians alike, and still consistently appears on lists of ‘most dangerous roads in America.’ More recently, the state has provided funding to add speed cameras, crosswalk signals, new signage, and to conduct another study on how to improve the roadway. The long-term goal set out is to make the road a better one by 2040, but the much-needed infrastructure funding could speed that timeline up.
For I-95, the state has been carrying out a decades-long major road improvement of the section of the interstate roadway that runs between Old City and Tacony along the Delaware River. The first improvements started in 2009 and are slated to end around 2031. With the infrastructure funding, that improvement could expand.
Beyond roadways, the infrastructure bill also represents a major victory for SEPTA, the Delaware River Watershed restoration effort, and Internet access across neighborhoods in Philly.
For SEPTA in particular, it will get an additional $120 million in federal funding plus $300 million via the reauthorization of other funding sources. In terms of federal funding on the whole, the transportation authority now has planning capacity for the next five years.
When it comes to the Build Back Better Act, during his visit to AL DÍA, Boyle admitted more negotiations were needed before a consensus could be reached, and that’s still the case today more than a month later.
His congressional district, which encompasses about half of Philadelphia from far Northeast Philly to Old City, is also one made up of predominantly working-class families that work paycheck-to-paycheck and prop up some of the city and region’s most vital industries. All facets of the Build Back Better Act he highlighted would benefit them the most, according to Boyle.
He highlighted the inclusion of universal pre-K, the expansion of Medicare, a sustained child tax credit, and increased family and paid sick leave, as some of the key pieces for Philly.
When it comes to the expanded child tax credit, Boyle said it was one of the major victories of the earlier American Rescue Plan Act, but won’t make sense unless it stays beyond the allocated year.
“No congressional district had more people benefit from the child tax credit than mine,” he said. “If we want to say we’re really pro-family, and both parties tend to compete with who can be more pro-family, well the child tax credit is putting your money where your mouth is, and that helps parents with the cost of raising children.”
For universal pre-K, it’s something Philadelphia has had in place for a number of years, but something the rest of the country needs to catch up on. Boyle sees it as vital for the future of the U.S.’s ability to remain leaders on a global scale when it comes to innovation.
“That is absolutely needed if we’re going to be competitive in the 21st century compared to countries worldwide that make investments and get kids in classrooms at an earlier age than we do,” he said.
The expansion of paid family and sick leave also takes the pressure off families that do work paycheck-to-paycheck to remain at home when ill. As highlighted during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, workplaces that did not provide the adequate number of paid sick days ended up being the places where the virus spread the most, as employees needed the pay to survive.
Boyle also expressed support for both two years of free community college — which has since been negotiated out of the bill — and the inclusion of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants — which has been shot down by the Senate Parliamentarian.
As negotiations continued on both bills at the beginning of November, Democrats got their first gut check for delaying their passage in the form of an election loss in Virginia’s gubernatorial race and a near one in New Jersey. The results foreshadowed what could happen on a much larger scale during the 2022 midterm elections.
During his visit to AL DÍA, Boyle predicted the heavy political price his party would pay for inaction in 2022.
He recognized the achievement of passing the American Rescue Plan Act as one step, but pointed to infrastructure and the Build Back Better Act as more important achievements to run on and see success in a year’s time.
“It’s as simple as this: if we get this done, we will have an incredible record to brag about to the American people to say: ‘Hey, re-elect us. This is what we brought you,’” said Boyle. “And if we don’t get it done, I think we will pay a political price next year.”
With infrastructure now passed, the Build Back Better Act remains the last initial piece for President Biden’s agenda to get going and give the party a fighting chance in 2022.