Tester and McDonough Roundtable

Senator Jon Tester speaks at a roundtable discussion with VA Secretary Denis McDonough on April 6 in the Strand Union Building on MSU campus.

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The $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package was signed into law by President Joe Biden on Monday, with the landmark legislation providing much needed federal money to road, bridge, water and internet projects in Montana and across the country.

The president’s signature marked the final step in the gestation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which will send billions to Montana for highway projects, broadband expansion, rural water projects and more. The bill would tack on around $550 billion in new federal spending over the next 10 years.

Montana’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester played a key role in the bill.

Tester spoke with reporters Monday about the benefits that the bill would bring to Montana. The money would be channeled through existing programs and agencies, Tester said. For example, the $2.82 billion for highway projects would go through the Montana Department of Transportation, and the $42 billion for expanding access to broadband would fall to the U.S. Department of Commerce, distributing money through a competitive bidding process.

But an exact date for when money would arrive was unclear, however contracts for projects could be ready as early as the start of next year.

“By the time construction season starts, which is usually at the end of February or March, unless we get an extended cold snap, I think the dollars will be there, and I think the contracts will be awarded long before that,” Tester said in an interview with the Chronicle.

The bill would produce around 800,000 new jobs — primarily in the construction industry — by the middle of this decade, according to a Nov. 4 report from Moody’s Analytics, an economic research and risk assessment company.

Both Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Matt Rosendale voted against the bill. Daines said in a statement released Nov. 6 that this bill, along with the proposed Build Back Better Act — the $1.75 trillion bill that would focus government spending on areas like child care, research and development for fighting against climate change and extension to the Child Tax Credit — would add to the “skyrocketing inflation crisis.”

Over the past year, inflation has grown by 6.2% for all goods, the largest single-year growth in over 30 years, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Tester pointed to findings from Moody’s Analytics report, which indicated that the infrastructure package could ease inflation due to the nature of the projects that would be funded by the bill being long-term investments in bettering key channels of economic activity, like highways and shipping ports.

“It should reduce the cost of doing business. If you’ve got better roads you’ve got less maintenance. If you can do some of your business by internet you’ll have less transportation cost … so it should actually have a reduction effect,” Tester said.

Today’s inflationary pressures are a combination of things, like breakdowns in the supply chain backups in ports around the country, said Montana State University economics professor Vincent Smith.

Tackling growing inflation would require stricter policies on money, like increasing interest rates or increasing taxes to counter spending.

“To control inflation, historically, governments or central banks have always had to tighten monetary policy,” Smith said. “There really isn’t a case where inflation has been brought under control by the government reducing spending.”

For Tester, Monday was the close of a months-long process but the beginning of a nationwide effort to reinvigorate crumbling roads and bridges.

“This is one of the best days I’ve had in Washington D.C., it truly is,” Tester said. “This is something that for six months we met, and we argued, and we fought and we worked, and in the end we got something that is the biggest non-emergency investment in infrastructure in this country’s history.”

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Alex Miller is the county and state government reporter and can be reached at amiller@dailychronicle.com or by phone at 406-582-2648.

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