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Where Murphy, Blumenthal and Courtney stand on infrastructure priorities and process

Early Thursday morning, the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed a $547 billion surface transportation bill out of committee. Later in the day, a group of five Republican and five Democratic senators announced they had reached an agreement on a "realistic, compromise" infrastructure plan.

But Connecticut's Democratic senators aren't on board.

Sen. Chris Murphy tweeted Friday morning, "Why let Republicans decide the size of an infrastructure bill when reconciliation is a perfectly legitimate process (used unapologetically by the GOP when they were in power) to do a bill that will actually make a difference? It's not cheating to use the rules."

Reconciliation would allow the Senate to pass a bill with as few as 50 votes, with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaker, instead of 60 votes.

Murphy told The Day mid-day Friday that he hasn't seen any of the details from the small bipartisan group but what he has seen "makes me very skeptical that their proposal will make a significant difference."

"I don't think an infrastructure bill is worth doing unless it actually fixes the problems that commuters and workers face, so I want to do a bill that's big enough and bold enough so that in Connecticut, people aren't stuck in traffic as long and businesses are more willing to locate to our state," he said.

Many have questioned the feasibility of even getting 50 Democratic votes. Murphy responded to this by saying, "It's a lot easier to get 50 votes than it is 60, so I'm not sure why we would deliberately handicap ourselves." He added that he reserves the right to vote no on a bill he doesn't think makes a difference, and he won't support a bill that doesn't have major rail investment.

But he said "failure is not an option" and he has "confidence that, while we have some big differences right now, we'll be able to get it done."

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said what he knows about the bipartisan agreement is "enough to tell me that it's woefully inadequate, well short of the robust and really transformative infrastructure plan that we need for Connecticut and the country."

He called the bipartisan proposal of $1.2 trillion in infrastructure over eight years a "shell game" because only $579 billion of that is new spending.

"I would much prefer to have Republicans join us, and make it bipartisan, but not at the sacrifice of a really adequate program," Blumenthal said. "It's a historic opportunity which we simply cannot afford to miss."

He said financing methods he would support include a minimum corporate tax rate of 15%, raising taxes on people making more than $400,000, and an infrastructure bank that would issue its own bonds, but he would oppose user fees or an increase in the gas tax.

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said he agrees with President Joe Biden in encouraging bipartisan collaboration. But he feels moving forward on infrastructure "is a really must-do initiative for the country" and is "prepared to support reconciliation if that's the only path that we have available to us."

Murphy, Blumenthal and Courtney all talked about the importance of replacing the Connecticut River Bridge between Old Lyme and Old Saybrook, with Murphy and Courtney remarking on how trains have to slow down a lot to go over the bridge.

Blumenthal also wants to see funding spent on high-speed rail, deepwater ports, Bradley International Airport and broadband internet. He also supports investing in human capital, such as day care, "so moms can go back to work, and dads."

The bacon is back

On Friday morning, Courtney held a virtual roundtable with representatives of the six "member-designated projects," or earmarks, in his district as part of the $547 billion bill the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed, called the INVEST in America Act. Courtney said the House will probably take up the bill on the floor sometime this month.

The biggest share of the bill is $343 billion for roads, bridges and safety, which would go to state departments of transportation for what Courtney called the "large, really must-do projects." Examples he gave were fixing the Interstate 395/Interstate 95 merge and repairing the northbound lanes on the Gold Star Bridge.

But he convened the group to talk about essentially 0.003% of spending in the bill: the roughly $18 million that would go to the Second Congressional District for earmarks, which constitute about 1% of spending in the bill nationwide.

The House brought back earmarks earlier this year after a decadelong ban, and Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut President and CEO Tony Sheridan said he is "delighted."

He said there "has to be a process to bring some of these people who have grown accustomed of saying no to everything" to the table, and they "want to bring home some bacon, as they say, to their districts."

Sheridan joined the Zoom call Friday to advocate for $4.9 million for a pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks in New London, citing public safety and helping people not miss their trains. Courtney put this proposal in the context of the committee's allocation of $109 billion for rail and buses, saying that spending would increase rail traffic and speeds, meaning "there will ideally be more trains coming through New London."

Sheridan said without the earmark process, "these small but important projects" won't get done because they have to compete with larger projects.

Under the committee bill, Essex would get $2.4 million for the Essex River Road Bridge and Sidewalk Project, and Town Planner John Guszkowski said he is "extraordinarily excited about this project."

Guszkowski said residents of Heritage Cove are disconnected from the rest of town due to lack of pedestrian access, and more than 120 residents have submitted letters in support of the project. He said this project would help a population of mostly seniors who want to walk but not on a dangerous street.

Coventry Town Manager John Elsesser said the town "didn't make up" the Coventry Main Street Sidewalk Project to go after money but the project has been in the works for a long time. The $1.2 million would go toward building a sidewalk that would ultimately connect to the town's middle and high schools.

The other member-designated projects in Courtney's district are in Plainfield, Mansfield and East Haddam.

e.moser@theday.com

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