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State of the Union infrastructure program gets attention from local lawmakers

File Photo

The visual images on television were very clear: Republicans were vocal in their praise of President Trump's State of the Union message, while Democrats were not wearing out their hands with applause. However, there was one issue that seemed to cross the aisle: infrastructure.

The president again trumpeted the need for massive infrastructure investments in roads, bridges and railways and upped the ante by saying he will propose a $1.5 trillion program, up from $1 trillion a year ago. The details were vague, although it seems to be planned as a Public Private Partnership.

"Like any State of the Union address, this was more thematic than it was substantive, but I do think that the one glaring exception that I think is very favorable is the president's explicit about a $1.5 trillion investment in rebuilding the roads and bridges of American, including right here in Buffalo and Western New York," said Rep. Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo).

Higgins said he has a shopping list of projects around here for the funds, like a new plaza for the Peace Bridge. He said public investment leads to private investment.

Credit File Photo / WBFO News
Rep. Brian Higgins says the Peace Bridge would benefit from president's infrastructure program.

"The conditions that are favorable for private sector investments - look at Ohio Street, look at Main Street, look at Niagara Street, look at Canalside - every time there is a public investment in infrastructure, private sector investment follows," Higgins said. "It's not coincidental. It's a cause and effect relationship."

Higgins said the money also could go to other road projects like the DL&W extension of the Metro Rail or the proposed High Lines path along the old DL&W line into downtown Buffalo.

Rep. Tom Reed (R-Southern Tier) said his constituents want the infrastructure program.

"When you got things like 219 and completion of that four lane piece right there in Western New York, when you got water and sewer systems that need to be replaced throughout the district, what I saw today in that speech was a commitment to rebuild that American infrastructure," Reed said. "We can do that because now, as the economy grows, that means we have new opportunities, new sources of revenue that we can then invest in America's infrastructure."

Credit File Photo / WBFO News
Job seekers were plenty at a recent job fair in Buffalo.

Reed said there are plenty of workers and suppliers in his district to build anything the infrastructure program demands.

"We're seeing lowering unemployment rates in all sectors, especially in our African-American and minority populations," Reed said. "We're seeing investments that are leading to billions of dollars of new opportunity. By having a growing economy, I can tell you, that's when the American spirit soars. That's when the American strength goes up - and as one nation, we then unite behind each other to solve the problems that we face, together."

Rep. Chris Collins (R-Clarence), an early Trump supporter, also liked the speech.

"It was factually based, talking about record prices in the stock market, 401-Ks, company after company giving wage increases because of our tax reform, making commitments to more investment in factories and jobs," Collins said, "and I think anyone watching it would say, 'Boy, we're in a really good spot one year after Donald Trump presidency. He's got more to come.'"

Credit File Photo / WBFO News
The president's proposal to cut prescription prices caught the ear of Rep. Chris Collins.

Collins said he was surprised by the president's proposal to lower health care costs by cutting the prices of prescription drugs and is not sure how that will work, since most drugs do not survive testing and the drugs that work and sell have to pay for the unsuccessful products.

He liked the infrastructure idea, but said his more rural constituents will like the president's proposal to spend more money on vocational education because of the jobs picture.

"Vocational training is a relatively inexpensive schooling that prepares someone for a lifetime job and good wages," Collins said. "So, yes, I think for me, with a rural constituent base in eight counties that need more jobs, I thought that was something that I would support wholeheartedly."

Collins said he knows from his own businesses there is a growing shortage of trained workers in a wide array of fields and employers are looking to hire.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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