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Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto on how federal infrastructure law could impact Nevada

A woman, left, is standing next to a man, right, and smiling outside.
Courtesy of Catherine Cortez Masto
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U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, left, poses with fellow Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, of Virginia, at the infrastructure bill signing ceremony at the White House on Monday, Nov. 15, 2021.

President Joe Biden recently signed a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill into law. KUNR’s Kaleb Roedel spoke with US Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto about where the money will go in Nevada and what it will do for the state’s recovery from the pandemic.

Kaleb Roedel: So, under the new bill, Nevada stands to receive more than $4 billion over 5 years. What specifically will those funds be used for?

Cortez Masto: [It’s a] combination. Let me just say, besides just rebuilding our roads, bridges and highways, it is really a package that's investing in our workforce; it will create jobs; it will continue to grow the economy. There is specifically dollars for Lake Tahoe restoration that we need. There's about 17 million [dollars] there that's specific to Lake Tahoe. There's 100,000,000 [dollars] that will come into Nevada to provide broadband coverage across the state, which will actually provide access to more than 123,000 Nevadans who currently lack it. As you well know, we've got underserved communities in our rural areas and our urban areas, and this is going to bring that connectivity, which will allow so many in our community now to be connected to telehealth, telemedicine, behavioral health needs to e-learning, so that's important.

The other thing that I think is important, [that] most people don't realize, is that this allows us to make these investments to really bring back, and work on bringing back, manufacturing and continue to support manufacturing in the United States, so we're we are actually investing in made-in-America products and American workers. Because I sit on [the U.S. Senate Committee on] Energy and Natural Resources, I was able to get in important investments in our critical mineral and battery supply chain. A lot of that work is happening in Nevada right now, and we want to continue to grow it, including promoting our mining and emerging battery industries, and set up this, this really a sustainable critical mineral supply chain.

Specifically, if you don't know in Nevada we have companies, particularly in Northern Nevada, that are focused on battery storage and battery recycling. Dragonfly Energy is one that manufacturers batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage, and there's so many companies like that and opportunities for us in this state to continue to, to grow those businesses and create these good jobs for our future.

Roedel: Going off of that, how crucial will this legislative package be in our state’s recovery from this lingering pandemic that we're in?

Cortez Masto: It's very important. We are still in, you know, we still are addressing a healthcare pandemic and we have to remember that. We still need to make sure we are getting focused on the health care needs and, and ensuring we are stemming the spread of this virus and variants, but it is important in a state that was so devastated economically because of this healthcare pandemic that we make these investments to ensure our economy rebounds, and we are investing in our workforce and our businesses, and continuing to expand our economy. That's what this bipartisan infrastructure package does.

Roedel: And how will the Infrastructure Act help achieve some of our climate goals, as you were touching on earlier?

Yes, I just, as I've said, it focuses really on how we reduce our carbon footprint by making these big investments in clean energy from, from not only the, the critical minerals that we need for that clean energy, such as lithium and cobalt, but also addressing the battery supply chain, as well as electric vehicles, electric buses, that will help us reduce our carbon footprint [and] investing in electric charging stations. We already have some of those around the state and there's the ability to create even more of those, so […] there are a number of things still in this bipartisan infrastructure package that also makes these investments in, really, not just clean energy, but smart communities, smart transportation, that's going to also help us reduce our carbon foot.

Roedel: How will the new bill contribute to the national debt, and what do you think should be done to deal with that issue?

So, a combination of things right now. At the end of the day, I think, of course, like any family, we have to make sure we are addressing our debt, and we have to pay our bills, like any family does.  There are “pay fors” in this bill, the bipartisan infrastructure package. There's also “pay fors” that are included so that we are not contributing all of it to our national debt. I think that's just as important, and moving forward, even as we look at the next piece of legislation, the “pay fors” are important.

I think, like any family, we should be looking and figuring out how we are going to pay for some of these investments that we are making. The bipartisan infrastructure package has a combination of “pay fors,” but it also, because it's investing in our infrastructure long term, it also helps to pay for itself. Remember, it's over a five year period, like you said, but if we are investing in our roads and our bridges and broadband and so many things that I just talked about, those are long-term infrastructure investments that also benefit, and, like I said, they help to grow the economy. That benefits us as well, not just in Nevada, but across the country.

Roedel: Turning our focus to the social safety net and climate policy plan, with zero Senate or Congressional Republicans supporting the proposal, how optimistic are you that it'll get passed, and how soon could that be?

Well, let me just say, the focus right now for us has been, and I think it is important and this is something I see that is needed in our state in a bipartisan way, you know, we have passed through the American Rescue Plan, we, we actually implemented a child tax credit, or an investment tax credit. What does that mean? That is not a new social safety net program. Those are literally taxpayer dollars that people pay that they are, we are actually now allowing them to get ahead of time, instead of at the end when they submit their, uh, taxes, they are actually able to get those early and more often to utilize them for their needs.

So, the child tax credit alone helps families that need the money now, instead of waiting until they file their tax return, and that has helped so many families in the state of Nevada. [It’s] just similar to the earned income tax credit that helps individuals who don't have children but still gives them those, that extra money in their pocket when they need it. […] When, as you all know, the pandemic has just really had a devastating effect on our economy.

That's what we are looking to extend, the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit. Really, so, the focus is on our families in the middle class. How do we lower costs for them? How do we cut taxes? For our families, so we are really focused on their needs in […] supporting the middle class and that's, moving forward, that's what we're looking at, along with these investments in clean energy and creating jobs and making sure people are getting re skilled or retrained for these new jobs of the future, in the innovation economy as well.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist who joined KUNR as a reporter in November 2021.
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