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WATCH: U.S. Transportation Secretary discusses infrastructure plan, importance for Kansas

Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 7:41 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg joined Eyewitness News anchor and “Right Now” host Michael Schwanke to discuss the president’s infrastructure plan, talks aiming for bipartisan support for a plan and key infrastructure issues affecting Kansas.

Michael Schwanke: Pleased to be joined today by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Mr Secretary, thank you for spending a little time as we talk about this infrastructure plan. It seems like at first, everyone was far apart, and then it felt like they were getting closer together and all the sudden it’s falling apart again can you just update us today. Where does it stand?

Pete Buttigieg: Yeah, I think this back and forth is a very natural part of the process we had a lot of conversations with a group of Republican senators led by Senator capital of West Virginia. We started out pretty far apart and, unfortunately, in the end, just couldn’t get close enough to find a deal. That being said, there are other conversations going on there’s a bipartisan group of senators, right now, that is putting together their framework we’ve seen another bipartisan framework come out of the house. And of course, we’re having conversations with both chambers both houses all the time. The bottom line is, we’ve got to act, big, and we’ve got to act now. America is not even in the top 10 anymore in transportation infrastructure, the President think that some thinks that’s unacceptable especially countries like China making massive investments in their infrastructure, if we want to compete. If we want to create jobs for the future if we want to just have the best roads and bridges and transit and airports and waterways, we got to act, and that’s the president’s bottom line.

Michael Schwanke: Yeah, there does seem to be bipartisan support, everyone wants some kind of an infrastructure bill I want to drill down especially in rural America which we cover a lot of... Kansas I’m looking at the, the grade card from your office here, Kansas infrastructure gets ta C... at the top roads and bridges, is there a priority when we look at rural America?

Pete Buttigieg: Certainly when you look at rural America, people really rely on those roads and bridges we also need to make sure that we’re maintaining good rail infrastructure, and a lot of folks might not have thought of it this way but electric vehicles, for my dime, are better suited to rural America than anywhere else. People are more likely to live in their own houses which means you can just plug in in your garage, and people take longer trips and use more gas, which means you’ll save more money, owning an electric vehicle than people who live in big cities. Now, what we got to do is make those vehicles more affordable for everybody, which is why we’re proposing rebates and tax incentives. So I think that’s an area that maybe hasn’t been discussed enough in terms of what it means for rural America. We got to make sure that we’re bringing the entire country along into this future, and, you know, in many ways. Kansas is leading the way you look at the 1000′s of people who are employed in wind for example over in the energy sector.

Michael Schwanke: Let’s talk broadband because Democrats and Republicans here in the state of Kansas, both support expanded broadband... your sheet here says roughly 15% They don’t have access to broadband the others about 50% really only have one choice. Is broadband a priority as well?

Pete Buttigieg: Absolutely. There’s a reason that we put broadband in this American-jobs plan. I know it’s not considered traditional infrastructure, it’s not a road or a bridge, but the truth is you need an internet connection to thrive in the economy, just as sure as you need a way to connect into the interstate highway system they go together. And so, it may not be traditional, but it is essential and one day, we’re going to think of internet the same as being able to have access to railway line or, or a road. the President’s plan gets affordable fast internet to every single American. And that’s something I hope, Republicans and Democrats, Democrats can agree is a good idea.

Michael Schwanke: It seems where they split Mr. Secretary, and our viewers will will call or email us regarding this plan, asking why what they feel is outside of the bounds of infrastructure in on this list, housing, childcare for example, can you, can you help explain why those are in this plan because that that does seem to be where a lot of the split is?

Pete Buttigieg: Yeah, so this is the American jobs plan, and the point of it is to make Americans better off, and to create that foundation that we think of is the kind of big picture understanding of what infrastructure means some of its transportation infrastructure look like what I work on here at the department roads, bridges, airports and so on. But I also believe whether you whether you want to call it infrastructure or not, we’ve got to act on making childcare affordable for more Americans. It’s the right thing to do. We’ve got to act on crumbling veteran infrastructure like housing, hospitals for veterans. We’ve got to act on making sure everybody has internet, even though that’s not considered traditional passionate infrastructure, if somebody disagrees about what category to put it in, fine. We can agree to disagree on that I have no problem, agreeing to disagree on, on what bucket you want to put it in philosophically but either way we got to get it done, And we got to move it through now because Americans can’t wait.

Michael Schwanke: Give us an idea of your timeline, what would you like to see as they come back to the table here again. What guidance are you giving those lawmakers?

Pete Buttigieg: Well, look, when you consider the the race that America is in with other countries around the world and when we consider the increasing cost of doing nothing. The best time to get this bill through was yesterday. The next best time is today, we’ve got to act with a sense of real urgency this summer. The house is taking steps on one part of it, actually today as we speak and in one of their committees, that’s part of the transportation bill for the future. There’s a lot of moving pieces with the House and Senate, a few twists and turns, that’s natural, but we really need to action this summer we can’t sit around and wait now because sitting around and waiting has cost America enormously over the last 10 2040 years when it comes to big investments that are long overdue,

Michael Schwanke: We only read the headlines for the most part, Americans see the big headlines... behind the scenes, Is there agreement on most of this plan and do you think it could become a reality? Do you think that’s possible?

Pete Buttigieg: You know, when I’m talking to Republicans and Democrats in the House in the Senate, I see a lot of agreement on a sense of urgency, an understanding that it’s not acceptable, acceptable for America to slip, further and further out of the top tier of nations in our infrastructure. Of course, there are differences of opinion differences on how to do it, how to pay for it, you know, the President believes it ought to be paid for by asking corporations in the wealthy to pay for their fair share, Republicans don’t always agree with that but at the end of the day we’ve got to get to that overlap and make something happen. And we’ve got to do it quickly. The other thing I’ll say that maybe doesn’t come across in the headlines is it, this has been a very cordial process with a lot of goodwill and good faith, honest disagreements, sometimes big ones, but I’ll say as somebody who has not been involved in this kind of federal agency negotiation process before, I’ve been really encouraged by the tone to the negotiations, even or maybe especially when we’re not quite seeing eye to eye on the issues.

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