Congress Builds Bridges to Pass $1T Bipartisan Infrastructure Package

Earlier this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States a “C- grade” on the nation’s infrastructure. I think I would agree with them on that, as I am writing this on my laptop in the waiting room of a service center after blowing out two tires on a pothole deep enough to swim in.

While a C- is an upgrade from the D+ ASCE issued in 2017, it continues to illustrate that our country has underinvested in the infrastructure we rely on to travel and move our farm goods to market. The underinvestment isn’t limited to just roads and bridges but includes our ports, canals, railways, and increasingly strained power grid. Imagine what would happen to your farm’s safety and productivity if you deferred maintenance, failed to mend fences, ignored damaged equipment, and generally underinvested in the things that make you successful; unfortunately that is the current state of U.S. infrastructure and why Farm Bureau has been calling for a significant investment in our nation’s infrastructure for years.

At long last, Congress has taken a step forward and passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Package which will dedicate $1.2T over the next decade to infrastructure. Before we outline how that money will be spent and what it means here in Virginia, it is important to note that this bipartisan infrastructure legislation is different than the partisan spending plan, called the “Build Back Better Act,” currently being debated in Congress.

At its core, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Package is a traditional infrastructure bill, but it also contains significant investments to benefit U.S. farmers, and rural communities.

Every day, Americans make 178M vehicle trips over structurally deficient bridges. In fact, over 40% of the bridges in the United States are over 50 years old. Anyone who hauls livestock or timber has noticed new weight restrictions popping up on Virginia bridges to try and address the issue of infrastructure in a state of disrepair. The infrastructure bill contains $110B for roads and bridges, including $530M specifically for Virginia.

Virginia is blessed with a deep-water port that moves goods in and out of the Commonwealth efficiently. However, much of our country’s inland waterways rely on 50+ year old locks, dams, and general infrastructure, which creates a supply chain bottleneck between farms and ports. The bipartisan infrastructure bill invests $17.3 billion to shore up our ports and inland waterways.

Broadband is infrastructure, and unfortunately, 1 in 4 U.S. farms have no access to high-speed internet. This tool is essential to modern agriculture and gives families access to online health care, education, and allows farmers to use precision ag technologies to reduce inputs, protect water quality, and improve soil health. The infrastructure bill invests $65 billion in broadband expansion so rural Americans aren’t left behind without affordable broadband service. A minimum of $100M of this amount is specifically being allocated to Virginia.

Beyond “shovel ready” infrastructure, the bill will help to address transportation-related supply chain issues that impact the rural and farm economy. Notably, to help alleviate the driver shortage and strengthen our supply chains, the bill includes provisions to help train and recruit truck drivers, and an exemption for livestock and insect (managed pollinators) haulers from Hours of Service regulations within a 150 air-mile radius from their final destination. This funding is targeted to focus on our nation’s infrastructure challenges and help keep Virginia farmers competitive internationally, and we look forward to seeing the implementation of the bill.

We are grateful to all our members who continue to make their voices heard on why infrastructure is critical to the agriculture industry and rural Virginia. Your efforts keep our lawmakers accountable to work together and find solutions that help this industry succeed.

Ben Rowe, National Affairs Coordinator

2022 Estimated Use Values from SLEAC

The 2022 land use value estimates have been posted online and you can not only see the values for each category, you can see brochures that show detailed information for the data used and crops making up the counties’ composite farm. Review the information at the Virginia’s Use-Value Assessment Program website.

The average change in value for all counties that have land use assessment was an increase of $48/acre from last year.  The SLEAC values are based on a 7-year Olympic average where the highest and lowest values are dropped from the average.  As noted from Virginia Tech, “Generally, increases were due to increased net returns in pasture and soybean enterprise budgets and federal program payments. Statewide, yield and price increased significantly for soybeans, with a yield of 42 bushels an acre (8 bushel increase from the prior year) and price increased to $10.50 per bushel ($1.70 increase from the prior year) for 2020. Tax year 2020-2022 pasture budgets include updated data reflecting common production practices, resulting in lower variable and fixed costs most associated with fertilization and establishment. Counties seeing decreases generally were due to decreases in profit from corn. For specific comments refer to your county in the attached documents.

2021 Redistricting in Virginia

You may remember voting “yes” or “no” on last year’s ballot to amend the state’s constitution and authorize the establishment of the Virginia Redistricting Commission to develop new electoral maps for Virginia’s state and congressional legislative districts. That measure passed and marked a significant change to the redistricting process, as the General Assembly has been responsible for drawing maps in the past. The bipartisan commission, which is composed of four members of the House of Delegates, four members of the Senate of Virginia, and eight citizen members, began work this year, but has faced delayed Census data, multiple procedural issues, and a consistent lack of consensus, all while operating under a tight deadline. So, if you are confused as to where they are in the process, you’re not alone.

The commission must submit new state House and Senate maps to the General Assembly for approval by October 10, 2021 and new Congressional maps by October 25, 2021. When drawing the maps, criteria that must be followed include guidelines related to population equality, voting rights and political participation, communities of interest, and political neutrality.  A Democratic consulting team and a Republican consulting team have each drawn draft maps to present to the commission for review. While the goal was to submit one House and one Senate map to the public for comments prior to the deadline, the commission was unable to agree on what those maps should look like; therefore 41 different maps are now available online, including several submitted by citizens.

Without a doubt, for both commission members and the general public, this is an overwhelming amount of data to digest. Fortunately, the Virginia Public Access Project has done an excellent job at covering the current redistricting process. Just by inputting your address here, you can see how the different plans would impact your representation.

Concerned about how the plans may affect you or your locality? The commission has presented several opportunities for public comment:

Written Comment

1. Submission through email. Comments may be emailed to varedist@dls.virginia.gov and will be posted on the commission’s website at: https://www.virginiaredistricting.org. These comments will be available to the commission for review and consideration.

2. Submission through regular mail. Comments may be sent by regular mail to the following address:

Virginia Redistricting Commission – Pocahontas Building, 8th Floor 900 E. Main Street – Richmond, VA 23219

3. Submission through public comment portal. The various proposed maps are posted on the commission’s website. These interactive maps have a feature that allow members of the public to select an area of interest on the map and enter their comments about that area.

Live Comment

1. In person. At in-person public hearings of the commission, members of the public can attend the hearing and provide live, in-person comments to the commission. Sign-up will be on site, beginning one hour prior to the hearing start time and ending one hour after the hearing begins.

2. Virtual. At both in-person and virtual public hearings of the commission, members of the public may attend the hearing virtually and provide live comments to the commission. Those wishing to provide virtual comment at a hearing must sign up prior to the hearing, using a link that will be provided in advance of the hearing on the Meetings & Public Hearings page of the commission’s website. Members of the public must register at least 24 hours before the time of the in-person or virtual public hearing.

A public hearing schedule by region can be found here, and public hearing FAQs can be found here.

More to come as this process continues to unfold!

Stefanie K. Taillon – Senior Assistant Director, Governmental Relations