HELENA – U.S. Sen. Jon Tester told state lawmakers Friday that he firmly believes spending on infrastructure is the key to rebuilding the economy.
Tester said infrastructure spending is not just about filling potholes, and should focus on meaningful improvements to highways, bridges, water systems and other projects.
“Rebuilding the economy from the ground up can be summed up in three words: infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure; along with jobs, jobs, and jobs,” Tester said.
The Democrat said that every billion dollars in infrastructure investment produces nearly 30,000 jobs locally.
Tester, in an interview after the speech, said other aspects of the stimulus package, like tax breaks, are less exciting to him.
Details of the plan continue to change as President-elect Barack Obama hashes it out with congressional leader. Current plans call for $800 billion to be split largely among infrastructure, aid for cash-strapped states and tax cuts.
“I’ll tell you what gives me pause: I want the bulk of this to go into infrastructure,” Tester said.
Tester said the Montana economy, hit by layoffs at timber and manufacturing companies, is facing “tough times.”
“It speaks to the fact that we need to stabilize the housing industry,” Tester said.
Tester said he expects Congress could be voting on a stimulus package in a month or so. And much of the money will have to flow through state governments and be prioritized by them.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s office has prepared a list of $3.1 billion worth of “shovel ready” infrastructure projects that could be funded with federal stimulus money.
Tester said he speaks almost daily with Schweitzer’s office about the evolving stimulus plans. He also intends to work closely with state legislative leaders, since they could end up having a say in how the money is spent as it is allocated to different states.
Tester returned to the state Legislature that gave him his political start. He was first elected to the state Senate in 1998 and left in 2006 as the state Senate president.
Schweitzer also thanked the Legislature for its bipartisan opposition in 2007 to the federal Real ID act. He said that vote was crucial in helping beat back the proposal — but he warned that the fight may not be over.
“There will be more battles to come on Real ID, but building on this record of working together will show us the way to success,” Tester said.
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