Discussing the potential impact of President Biden’s infrastructure plans on farm country, North Dakota’s transportation chief expresses the honest pragmatism that keeps the prairie alive by taking federal money:
“We’ll take as much money the federal government can send our way and I would say almost every state is in a similar condition,” said Bill Panos, the director of the North Dakota Department of Transportation, who also serves as the president of the Western Association of State Highway Transportation Officials.
Panos has a 10-year plan for North Dakota that is projected to cost $2 billion just to maintain existing infrastructure — about the amount in federal funding the state expects to receive for road and highway investments if the bill passes. North Dakota’s senators Kevin Cramer and John Hoeven, both Republicans, voted for the bill [Katie Lobosco, “Trump Went All-Out to Win Farmer Support. Now They’re All in on Biden’s Infrastructure Plan,” CNN, 2021.09.26].
Back in 1993, South Dakota Governor George S. Mickelson took a similarly pragmatic stance on a new Democratic President’s plan to invest in infrastructure. Governor Mickelson put aside partisanship and told us to get out our buckets (start at 36:50):
Water development is a public health issue. Water development is an economic development issue. We have talked about water development for 40 years. And for 40 years, this state has not developed any measure of the total development that was promised us when we made the political decisions along with other basin states in 1944 to dam up and provide ther esrvoirs that are here. And so now is the time to deal with water development.
Bill Clinton has mentioned twice at least that I’ve seen in his talk about infrastructure development jumpstarting this nation’s economy, twice he has talked about water development projects as being a key. It may be short-lived also, that is, this ability to jumpstart with infrastructure improvement. He—I’m going to support him in whatever efforts he wants to make—almost every effort that he might want to make—in balancing the federal deficit, but the fact is that our opportunity may be fairly short-lived. You’ve been reading lately about how he was more concerned about the budget, that it might—the deficit might be more than he actually thought it was. So if it’s gonna rain only once, and it’s gonna happen soon, we have to get our buckets ready [Governor George S. Mickelson, State of the State Address, Pierre, SD, 1993.01.12; transcribed from C-SPAN video, starting timestamp 36:50].
Politicians in North and South Dakota tend to talk a good game about opposing big government. But when we actually have to build vital infrastructure like roads and bridges and water pipes, we know we have too much ground and too little cash to build such projects without the help of big federal government.