Representative Salud Carbajal | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

“This is going to be big for the country and the Central Coast, most significantly in the money it brings and jobs, jobs, jobs,” said Salud Carbajal, as he Monday-morning quarterbacked the $1 trillion infrastructure bill signed into law by President Joe Biden last week.

It could have been a better bill, Carbajal critiqued, and he blamed “some colleagues on the other side of the aisle who didn’t want larger investments in green infrastructure provisions.” Nonetheless, “This was the greenest proposal ever seen,” he asserted.

In addition to the $110 billion the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act holds for highways, bridges, and roads, it has even more for rail transportation, electrifying school and public buses, internet connections, electric-vehicle charging stations, developing clean energy sources, and Superfund cleanup. Water was another important aspect, especially for drought-troubled states like California, with investments for clean water, wastewater, and replacing aging infrastructure, such as lead pipes.

And many of its original climate-change content made it into the Build Back Better bill, Carbajal noted, President Biden’s second infrastructure bill that is now headed for a Senate vote. Though both are compromises, Carbajal affirmed “both bills mean the quality of life will improve for all Americans in a dramatic way, in a way we haven’t seen in decades.”

Carbajal is a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, and eight of its 13 Republican members voted for the first infrastructure bill. “The bill came out of the Senate with huge bipartisan support,” Carbajal said of Democrats’ success. “Then, when it got to the House, [Minority Leader Kevin] McCarthy, in his usual way, polarized the hell out of it — in the toxic gridlock way that he knows how to do best — to try to make it a partisan issue in the House. That was really unfortunate.” Carbajal pointed out that the vote reflected on McCarthy’s leadership: “Even his own members defied his actions and voted for it.”

In local GOP circles, the bill seems to be popular, though some had reservations. Bobbi McGinnis, chair of the county Republican Party, agreed on the need to keep roads, bridges, and airports in America in good repair, but said of the $45 billion coming to California: “I just hope the Democrats in charge of California will do a good job of allocating the funds for what they were intended to do.” With one party in charge, she said, “it’s too easy to not spend the money as it was intended” and “the oversight has been dismal.” She was also concerned the second bill, the Build Back Better program, would create a hyper-inflation that will hurt the working middle class and seniors. “We build back America better when we have less taxation and the private individuals are able to have more money in their pockets to spend on their families needs,” she said.

On the other hand, Greg Gandrud, who commutes regularly between Carpinteria and Ventura and is the treasurer for the state Republican Party, thought that “It’s very important that we be proactive in maintaining and improving our local transportation infrastructure so that we can keep traffic flowing smoothly and safely,” adding that the new federal funding will help complete ongoing essential projects in a timely manner.

A major holdout for the bill was a Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Carbajal played in the charity baseball game — “I was in the outfield, but I rode the bench for most all of it,” he said — between Republicans and Democrats where images of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wagging her finger while on the phone went viral. Media reports quickly identified the listener as Senator Manchin, and Pelosi was quoted as telling him to take pride in what he’d already accomplished. Manchin voted for the bill, his support necessary in a Senate tied 50-50.

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The second bill — a social infrastructure bill of about $2 trillion in size — would give middle-class working families a “huge tax break,” Carbajal said. Health-care, childcare, and senior-care costs were excessive, he said. “What this is going to do is extend the child tax credit, increase universal pre-kindergarten, and fund childcare so that families don’t pay more than 7 percent of their income,” said Carbajal. These everyday costs for young families will translate to preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds and a 7 percent cap on childcare costs for households earning up to $300,000.

Important to Santa Barbara, where housing is so costly, the bill would earmark $150 billion for new housing, grant funding, a low-income housing tax credit, and a “major, major dent in addressing housing needs on the Central Coast and throughout the country,” said the congressmember.

The Pell Grant education program would double to $11 billion over four years’ time, and places like Cuyama, which Carbajal represented while a county supervisor, would benefit from broadband connectivity funding of $65 billion nationwide. The internet connection program targets hard-to-reach areas and Indigenous regions, adding permanent federal funding for low-cost plans for low-income households.

Carbajal said his first bill when he was elected to Congress in 2017 was to ban new offshore oil drilling in federal waters off the California coast. That zone expands in the upcoming bill to the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and eastern Gulf of Mexico, and it repeals oil and gas permits in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In their place are investments in alternative energy, reforestation, and even an electric bicycle tax credit. “This is huge: $550 billion for climate and renewable energy,” Carbajal exclaimed.

The best news, said Carbajal, taking a breath, is it’s all paid for. “Look at the CBO,” he advised when a reporter expressed doubt. According to the Congressional Budget Office analysis, he said, “The IRS is getting $44 billion to go after the big cheaters. If you consider the projected revenues brought in by the IRS from big corporate companies that are evading paying their fair share of taxes, this is completely paid for.”

Update: This story was updated on November 24 to include comments from Santa Barbara Republicans that arrived after the print deadline.

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