Tennesseans show support for infrastructure spending, but GOP lawmakers wary of excess spending

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Congressman Chuck Fleischmann
Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Congressman Chuck Fleischmann

President Biden's most ambitious legislative proposal so far - the $2 trillion American Jobs Plan - appears to enjoy a plurality of support even in the Republican-leaning 3rd congressional district of Tennessee.

Nearly half of the 400 voters surveyed in the East Tennessee district say they support Biden's infrastructure plan even when the Democratic president's name is attached to the proposal. The survey by the public opinion research company Global Strategy Group showed voters in the 3rd district favor Biden's American Jobs Plan by a 48-44 percent plurality.

Among those surveyed, 86% think fixing America's highways, roads and bridges and upgrading airports, ports and public transportation systems" is a personal priority" to them and about two thirds say investing in public schools and broadband is important to them.

Younger voters who have generally been harder hit by the coronavirus pandemic are even more supportive of the Biden plan with 58% of those under age 45 years old saying they support the president's overall proposal, compared with only 32% who said they are against the plan.

In the November 2020 election, Donald Trump received nearly twice as many votes as Joe Biden in the presidential contest in the 3rd district of Tennessee and U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Ooltewah, captured more than two thirds of the district's votes

But the new survey suggests spending more on infrastructure appears to be popular even in the GOP-dominated region of the Volunteer State.

"When government spending makes sense and people think they will benefit, they tend to support such programs and I think that is what you are seeing here," said David Eichenthal, a former Chattanooga city finance director under Mayor Bob Corker nearly two decades ago who is now a managing director for PFM Consulting.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said Tuesday he agrees that the federal government should spend more on highways, roads, bridges and locks. But the conservative lawmaker said he and other GOP members are against Biden's proposals to expand the infrastructure plan to give significantly more federal dollars for caregivers, diversity programs and family assistance or to make labor unionizing easier for organized labor.

"Tennesseans define things in ways that make sense," Fleischmann said. "We need an infrastructure bill, not a social action bill."

Fleischmann said Republicans are also against raising taxes as Biden as proposed to help pay for his sweeping plan.

"People also want a spending plan that is responsibly funded and I've seen no appetite for raising corporate income taxes," he said.

President Biden has urged Congress "to go big" in any spending measure and is supporting a hike in the corporate income tax rate to help pay for the ambitious plan.

"This is the moment to reimagine and rebuild a new economy," Biden said when he introduced the plan.

U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, said only 6% of President Joe Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure bill would be used to build roads and bridges.

"Biden's plan includes the largest tax hike in nearly three decades," she said. "It will strip Americans of their right to work by forcing them to join Democrat-backed unions. This 'infrastructure' plan is another Trojan horse for the radical left."

U.S. Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tennessee, said he supports investments in infrastructure building, but he called Biden's plan "a sweeping spending spree full of pet projects for Democrats."

Fleischmann also called Biden's proposal "a bloated bill" that he hopes congressional negotiators, including Democrats like U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, will pare down to focus on needed improvements in roads, airports, waterways and broadband services, without major spending increases for green energy measures, preschool education, manufacturing research and other economic stimulus measures.

Fleischmann has supported major funding for the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge reservation, the Chickamauga Lock replacement, the Appalachian Regional Commission and other programs that benefit East Tennessee and the Republican lawmaker said he tries to work across the political aisle on programs that make economic sense.

"I'm an optimist that we can hopefully come to some consensus and move forward on more traditional infrastructure measures," Fleischmann said.

A study by the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) released in January estimates that Tennessee needs $58.6 billion worth of public infrastructure improvements in the next five years, including nearly $3.6 billion in Hamilton County$387.3 million in Bradley County, $290.3 million in Marion County and $200.8 million in Rhea County. The TACIR report includes capital building needs for roads, bridges, wastewater treatment, schools, libraries, broadband and other structural needs.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340

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