Governors Discuss Implementing The IIJA With Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg

A look at the discussion Governors had with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on implementing the historic bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act at NGA’s 2022 Winter Meeting.

by Thomas Curtin, Glenn Grimshaw, and Richard Lukas

At the NGA Winter Meeting, Governors met with key federal officials to discuss implementing the historic bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). The Governors were joined by U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg during Saturday’s plenary session. NGA Chairman Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer facilitated a wide-ranging discussion between the Secretary and attending Governors.

Gov. Hogan and Gov. Whitmer highlighted how the infrastructure package incorporated NGA’s Principles for National Infrastructure Investment, which Governors have advocated for since 2019. And Gov. Hogan noted his testimony alongside Gov. Whitmer to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in February 2020 that helped craft the legislation. Governors’ priorities communicated to the committee included increasing existing funding streams, advancing public-private partnerships, addressing regulatory delays and improving transparency, focusing on resiliency, and promoting innovation.

Gov. Hogan’s 2019-2020 NGA Chair’s Initiative – Infrastructure: Foundation for Success – convened Governors and experts around the globe to learn and share best practices, many of which were included in the IIJA. The Maryland Governor, who has utilized public-private partnerships to drive a number of large infrastructure projects, emphasized the importance collaboration among states, the federal government, and the private sector to leverage the generational promise of IIJA. Secretary Buttigieg echoed the Governor’s position that “we need to mobilize all the capital that we can – historic investment at the federal level in terms of public funds, but also that needs to be coupled with private-sector activity if we really want to see our entire economy develop the way in needs to when it comes to our transportation systems and other infrastructure.”

Governor Hogan & Governor Whitmer

Gov. Whitmer, who ran on a promise to “fix the damn roads” in Michigan and worked alongside colleagues from both parties at NGA and on Capitol Hill to advocate for federal infrastructure legislation, shared her enthusiasm about the IIJA’s promise to build more resilient and equitable infrastructure. Gov. Whitmer, whose state has a rich history of vehicle manufacturing, expressed her pride in the transition happening in Detroit and elsewhere to electrify the cars Americans drive. Electric vehicles and EV charging infrastructure were a frequent topic of conversation throughout the weekend, with Secretary Buttigieg emphasizing President Biden’s goals for electrification.

NGA’s Economic Recovery and Revitalization Task Force meeting, led by Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear and South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, focused on the intersection of private industry and public policy to further EV adoption, with an overview of some of the resources recently made available to states and territories.

The meeting featured guest speakers Tom Stricker from Toyota, Travis Hester from General Motors, and John Bozzella from the Alliance for Automotive Innovation. Along with leveraging funding from the bipartisan IIJA, Governors are looking to partnerships with vehicle manufacturers and other private-sector stakeholders as essential to achieving broader policy objectives.

In his meeting with Governors, the Secretary engaged the group on a variety of topics. Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt shared his goals of reducing roadway fatalities, especially on rural highways. Secretary Buttigieg called attention to the Department of Transporation’s  newly released National Roadway Safety Strategy, which sets out a comprehensive approach to significantly reducing roadway injuries and deaths. The Secretary also recognized the need for streamlined, user-friendly processes, particularly with regard to the 40-plus discretionary grant programs the agency is charged with establishing and administering under the IIJA.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper drew the Secretary’s attention to the need for states and territories to address diverse goals such as electric vehicle infrastructure and resiliency from a variety of funding sources, and asked how the Administration, particularly the Department of Transportation, would help those efforts through the various discretionary grants. Drawing on the notion that infrastructure investments affect families and communities in a cross-sector manner, the Secretary called on several examples of investments made possible by cross-agency collaboration, such as transit-oriented development, resilience and emergency response, and “dig-once” policies that leverage access to highway and other public rights of way to deliver services like broadband, energy  and electric vehicle infrastructure.

Q/A Governors, clockwise, Governor Gordon, Governor Mills, Governor Carney, Governor Stitt

Maine Governor Janet Mills, who will host of NGA’s Summer Meeting in July 2022, discussed the need to make smart, long-lasting investments and that guidance from the federal government on how IIJA dollars will be flexible enough to allow states to address diverse, timely needs. Recalling the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Secretary Buttigieg drew a contrast in that the focus of IIJA is not to get funds out the door and on the street as quickly as possible; rather, given economic conditions, supply chain issues and labor shortages in many parts of the country, “This is really about building for the next decade, so when we are programming [IIJA] funds…we should find ways to take into account” those conditions. Drawing on his time as a former mayor, the Secretary also called attention to how the Department of Transportation can support states, territories and local governments in their efforts to use the highest quality, durable and most affordable and efficient roadway materials to make a long-term impact on these investments – a notion echoed by Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon.

The conversation with the Secretary came back to a common refrain among Governors that they expressed throughout the weekend: the need for timely and flexible guidance from NGA’s partners in the federal government. The Secretary, in responding to a question from Delaware Governor John Carney on timing for upcoming guidance, pointed to some programs that have already gotten funds out the door and other new programs that the department is developing new criteria and guidance for.

The Secretary noted that as Governors continue to work with his department, new programs will have guidance and applications “every couple of weeks…for the rest of the first half of this year.” On flexibility, the Secretary “recognized the value of flexibility … to be able to effectively deploy [IIJA] dollars,” and committed to “work with [Governors] to ensure that there is the best level of flexibility that we can deliver, consistent of course with our core commitments of our standards, expectations and the values and priorities that guided the creation of this bill and that guide our Administration.”