Buttigieg to push big infrastructure bill to boost economy

‘Infrastructure can be the cornerstone’ for post-pandemic recovery, Transportation nominee says

Pete Buttigieg in Arlington, Va., during his run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.  (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Pete Buttigieg in Arlington, Va., during his run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted January 21, 2021 at 9:05am

Transportation secretary nominee Pete Buttigieg will tell a Senate panel Thursday that he hopes to help the Biden administration shepherd through Congress a massive investment in infrastructure, calling it the key to helping regrow the economy.

“Infrastructure can be the cornerstone of all this,” he is expected to say in testimony prepared for his confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Buttigieg, whose prepared remarks were released shortly before the 10 a.m. hearing, is calling for a smarter transportation policy — one meant to help quality of life.

“I believe that good transportation policy can play no less a role than making possible the American Dream, getting people and goods to where they need to be, directly and indirectly creating good-paying jobs,” he will say. “But I also recognize that at their worst, misguided policies and missed opportunities in transportation can reinforce racial and economic inequality by dividing or isolating neighborhoods and undermining government’s basic role of empowering Americans to thrive.”

Like his predecessors, including Donald Trump’s Transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, Buttigieg is pledging that safety would be his top priority if confirmed. But safety, he will acknowledge, means something more than preventing traffic accidents in the age of COVID-19 and “takes on new meaning amid this pandemic.”

Depending on how his hearing goes, Buttigieg could become one of the youngest ever to serve in the post. The former South Bend, Indiana, mayor turned 39 on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, awaiting Biden’s inauguration, Buttigieg said he’d been speaking to both Republican and Democratic senators in advance of the hearing.

“I think it’ll be a great chance to hear about what they think is important and lay out the vision for the department,” he said.

Buttigieg faces no huge controversies going into the hearing. In a testament to how generally noncontroversial his nomination has been to date, a Republican, Sen. Todd Young of Indiana, is scheduled to introduce him to the panel. 

Young has been supportive. He issued a news release when Buttigieg was nominated, saying Biden’s choice “understands how critical infrastructure is to growth and opportunity.” Young, a Senate Commerce member, later tweeted a screenshot of his meeting with Buttigieg. 

Thursday’s hearing is expected to be short on specifics and heavy on biography. Buttigieg is a military veteran who served in Afghanistan and would be one of the first openly gay Cabinet officials if confirmed.

As mayor of South Bend from 2012 to 2020,, Buttigieg drew national attention for his move to change the city’s downtown from an auto-related thoroughfare to one that also encouraged bicycle and pedestrian traffic. 

Policy wonk

Often sounding wonkish and energized by discussions about urban policy, Buttigieg enthusiastically talked about South Bend’s sewer and water infrastructure as a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. A commuter rail buff, he loves the railroad-themed board game “Ticket to Ride.”

If confirmed, he’d join a handful of mayors to go on to serve as secretary of Transportation: Anthony Foxx, Norman Y. Mineta, Federico Peña andNeil Goldschmidt.

Since he was tapped by Biden on Dec. 15, Buttigieg has frequently tweeted about infrastructure, vowing that his department would carry out its “most fundamental mission of ensuring safety for both travelers and workers.”

In another tweet, he said he was listening to a “broad coalition of Americans — from every community and across political lines — who see enormous opportunities for job creation, equity and climate achievement when it comes to advancing America’s infrastructure.” 

As one of Biden’s notable challengers on the 2020 campaign trail, Buttigieg released a comprehensive infrastructure plan that would gradually move financing away from the current 18.4-cent-a-gallon federal gas tax and 24.4-cent-a-gallon diesel tax to a system paid for based on vehicle miles traveled. 

Buttigieg’s plan would have cost $1 trillion, including a $160 billion investment in transit and a doubling of the BUILD grant program, which pays for infrastructure projects. The plan also prioritized safety, calling for a “Vision Zero” plan to eliminate traffic fatalities and injuries. 

While not identical, his plan was thematically similar to Biden’s, which also prioritizes transit and Amtrak as well as policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in transportation.

Buttigieg would almost immediately dive into making Biden’s plans a reality. The current highway bill (PL 114-94), which Congress extended by a year, expires in  October, and Biden is expected to release his infrastructure plan next month.

Income

As part of the confirmation process, Buttigieg filed a financial disclosure form that showed he earned between $100,001 and $1 million in royalties for his book, “The Shortest Way Home,” and about $55,000 for the book’s U.K. and Korean rights. He earned $150,000 for hosting  an iHeartMedia podcast called “The Deciding Decade.” 

As mayor, he received  $111,607 during his last year in office. Buttigieg also received $36,667 from teaching at the University of Notre Dame. He also earned $311,500 in advances for his second book, “Trust,” as well as $1,825 for an appearance on “The Jimmy Kimmel Show.” His debts include his mortgage and student loans for himself and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg.

Biden on Monday announced plans to nominate Polly Trottenberg, who most recently ran New York City’s transportation department, to be deputy at the federal department. She also served as assistant secretary for transportation policy and undersecretary for policy in the Obama administration and worked in the Senate for Democrats Charles E. Schumer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York and Barbara Boxer of California.

In New York, Trottenberg implemented the city’s Vision Zero program to eliminate traffic fatalities — the program Buttigieg promised to emulate on a national level as a presidential candidate.