OKLAHOMA CITY — Members of Oklahoma’s Republican congressional delegation remained critical this week of the federal government’s recently-approved $1.2 trillion infrastructure investment, even as it became clearer how the more than $5.5 billion allocated for Oklahoma would be divvied up for state roads and bridges, improving water supplies and expanding broadband internet access.
Although 13 House Republicans voted for the infrastructure bill, none of the Oklahoma delegation supported it. Some Democrats also opposed it.
A number of Republican U.S. senators supported the measure, but James Lankford and James Inhofe were among the 30 opposed to it. Inhofe said he helped author part of an earlier infrastructure measure, which he argued was set aside in favor of Democratic priorities.
Lankford, R-Oklahoma, said Congress typically passes an infrastructure bill every few years, and those are usually non-controversial and targeted at federal infrastructure needs. But this year’s “progressive grab bag” was different, adding billions of dollars to the national debt.
He also said the measure focuses more on Green New Deal policies than roads and bridges.
“This bill loses track of our almost $29 trillion national debt and does not focus on truly federal infrastructure priorities,” Lankford said. “Inflation is already high for Oklahoma families and spending more money we don’t have now only makes that worse.”
Based on White House estimates, the state is slated to receive:
$4.3 billion for federal highway programs.
$266 million for bridge replacement and repairs.
At least $100 million to improve broadband coverage across the state and funding to help 1.12 million low-income Oklahomans afford internet access.
$520 million to improve water infrastructure to ensure clean, safe drinking water.
$137 million for airport infrastructure development.
$349 million to improve public transportation.
The state is also slated to receive additional funding for electric vehicle charging stations and to better prepare for climate change, wildfires, cyber attacks and extreme weather events.
According to the White House, Oklahoma has more than 1,000 miles of highway and 2,326 bridges rated in poor condition. And on average, Oklahoma drivers pay $394 a year in costs related to bad roads.
The White House also noted that 9% of Oklahomans still live in areas with no broadband infrastructure, and 29% of the population would qualify for a low-income stipend so they can afford internet access at home.
Members of Oklahoma’s federal delegation, though, expressed concerns about how much the infrastructure law would increase the national debt, how little of the $1.2 trillion Oklahoma would receive, and what they characterized as distorted priorities shifting billions away from actual infrastructure needs.
U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, said that while Congress has worked to advance modernization and the efficiency of infrastructure, “this is an imperfect bill.”
“As important as infrastructure is to connecting our communities and economies to one another, unfortunately, this unvetted bill remained politically coupled with the majority’s partisan, trillion-dollar spending-and-tax bill,” Lucas said.
Inhofe said the “sideshow negotiations produced a grab-bag of bad policy decisions that weren’t vetted,” added to the deficit, stacked the deck in favor of electric vehicles and focused on public transit over roads and highways.
He said a legislative committee earlier in the year overwhelmingly approved a highway and drinking water bill that was full of provisions he authored and supported. But rather than continuing the process that’s been in place for decades, the White House cast it aside “for a rushed process that sidestepped regular order,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, said the law is unpaid for, and lawmakers were asked to accept a plan that a few senators negotiated, then told to call it a victory and bipartisan plan.
The bulk of U.S. Rep. Kevin Hern’s concerns center around the fact that the vast majority of spending is not on “real infrastructure” — like roads, bridges, airports and broadband, his office said this week. Roughly 10% of the bill was allotted to “true infrastructure” while the bulk went to what he called Democrat “pet projects,” the Tulsa Republican’s office said.
“Socialism is not infrastructure,” said U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Westville. “Only $110 billion of this package will go towards improving actual infrastructure, like roads and bridges, and Oklahoma would only receive a small fraction of that money. Roughly 90% of this package will go to socialist projects and Green New Deal spending that guarantee inflation and debt for generations to come. I will not support funding for policies that drive our country into socialism.”
U.S. Rep. Stephanie Bice, R-Edmond, did not respond to a request for comment.
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.