CHARLESTON — Infrastructure projects, broadband expansion and getting more federal dollars into the hands of local elected officials were among the topics at hand Monday when U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito addressed county commissioners.
The County Commissioners Association of West Virginia held its legislative conference at the Embassy Suites in Charleston where it heard from state and federal elected officials.
Capito, R-W.Va, is vice chair of the Senate Republican Conference, making her the fifth ranking member of the Republican minority leadership. She also serves as the ranking Republican member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
The Senate remains in the hands of the Democratic majority while the U.S. House of Representatives has a slim Republican majority led by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. With each chamber controlled by a different party, it could make it hard for legislation to pass and for compromise. But Capito, who served nearly 15 years in the House, said she had confidence the Senate could work with McCarthy.
“I know Kevin McCarthy very well. We’re very good friends and served with him for a long time,” Capito said. “He’ll do a good job, but it’s going to be a difficult situation when you only have a slight majority.”
With the U.S. hitting the debt ceiling last week, federal lawmakers are beginning talks on what a deal to raise the debt ceiling could look like. Capito said to expect more of a focus on what the government spends money on and finding efficiencies.
“With a split Congress, I think what you’ll see on the good side is a lot more constraint on spending,” Capito said. “I think you’ll see a lot more oversight over where the spending is occurring. Certainly in my committee, what we’ll be working on looking at is these highway dollars going out.”
The $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that Capito helped negotiate in 2021 includes $110 billion for roads and bridges, with West Virginia estimated to receive $3 billion for roads and $506 million for bridges.
“There’s a lot of highway dollars in the infrastructure package. You probably already see the dirt flying and the repairs being made, particularly on the bridge-side,” Capito said. “That was one area I was particularly instrumental in. We have so many bridges that are functioning and they’re safe, but they’re aging and they need repairs. I think that is very important for us as West Virginians.”
West Virginia total allotment from the bipartisan infrastructure bill is nearly $4 billion for infrastructure projects over the next four years. Capito said to expect more infrastructure announcements.
“There will be more, and we want to help you,” Capito said. “There’s a lot of federal money that’s going to be flowing here and we want to make sure we’re taking not just full advantage of, but that we have formulated and mature projects that are ready to go.”
Capito told county commissioners that broadband expansion remains a priority for her, especially getting the maps right that are used to determine what parts of the state need the most focus.
West Virginia has access to more than $1 billion in broadband expansion funding, including $136 million for the state from the bipartisan infrastructure law. Capito continues to encourage West Virginia residents to visit broadbandmap.fcc.gov/home and see if the FCC maps are truly showing the level of broadband access they have in their communities. If the information isn’t accurate, residents can challenge the broadband availability so that the FCC can improve the maps.
“The importance of that is critical, because the monies flowing from the federal side, particularly the big pot of money that’s going to be coming in from the infrastructure package, has in it that the first directed dollars must go to unserved and under-served individuals,” Capito said. “We all know where they are. We just have to make sure the FCC knows where they are, because that is where the money is going to flow with the Broadband Enhancement Council.”
Capito said she is excited to see the federal broadband funding pour into the state. Now she says the state needs to get cracking to build out the broadband infrastructure before it becomes obsolete.
“We’ve got the money. We have to shorten the time,” Capito said. “We shouldn’t be having this conversation in five years. We should be talking about deploying 5G and other faster and more advanced technologies rather than can I still get the internet at my house.”
Capito also encouraged county commissioners to reach out to her office staff to apply for congressionally directed spending, also called earmarks. Both Capito and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., are members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Capito recently announced her officed secured more than $250 million in earmarks for West Virginia projects.
“There’s no add-on spending from an earmark. It’s basically directing the spending that’s already been appropriated to certain districts,” Capito said. “I think personally working with you all and many others, we can direct this spending a lot more meaningfully and make our dollars go farther.”