WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, discussed local and regional surface transportation needs in a hearing featuring two Mississippi leaders, Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker and Pascagoula Port Director Mark McAndrews. Congress is expected to begin consideration of a large infrastructure package that could include support for the nation’s roads, bridges, and multi-modal projects involving ports and rail.
In his opening statement, Wicker expressed his support for infrastructure as a bipartisan issue.
“This Committee has a long track record of consensus and bipartisanship, and I look forward to collaborating with Senator Cantwell and all members of this Committee to meet the needs of transportation infrastructure,” Wicker said
During questions to the witnesses, Wicker mentioned the LOCAL Infrastructure Act and the American Infrastructure Bonds Act, legislation he introduced that would provide financial flexibility for state and local governments seeking additional tools to help finance infrastructure projects while interest rates on bonds are at historic lows.
Barker testified about how states and local communities must have “skin in the game” to secure federal funds for transformative projects.
“Could either of these programs benefit cities like Hattiesburg in coming up with the needed funds [for cities to have] ‘more skin in the game?’” Wicker asked.
“The answer is absolutely,” Barker answered. “Municipal finance tools…are tools local and state governments can use.”
Barker and McAndrews also noted that many small and rural communities would benefit greatly from federal grant programs, yet often lack the resources to put forward highly competitive applications when other, more well-established towns and cities are involved.
They suggested that the federal government should play a bigger role in providing technical assistance to small and rural communities so that these areas can compete.
“The challenge may be so large that if you don’t have some funds to hire the right people to find out what the solution is, you never get into the game to begin with,” Barker said.
Last Congress, Wicker introduced the Rural Infrastructure Investment Act to address this issue.