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'Tangible improvements': U.S. Commerce Secretary Raimondo talks up new infrastructure plan, what it means for Wisconsin

TMJ4's Charles Benson asks about electric-vehicles and what the rise in Covid-19 Delta variants means for businesses.
Gina Raimondo
Posted at 3:46 PM, Jul 29, 2021

President Biden's bipartisan infrastructure deal won a key vote in the U.S. Senate Wednesday night with only one Wisconsin Senator supporting the deal.

It includes $550 billion in new spending for a total of $1.2 trillion over eight years, but it still faces more legislative hurdles and is not a done deal.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo tells TMJ4's Charles Benson the plan will help small businesses in Wisconsin with affordable internet access and provide funding for Milwaukee's much-needed lead lateral replacement project.

"It will have big improvements in transit, how we get around, how we get to work so there's some really tangible improvements here to improve your economy," said Secretary Raimondo. "It'll create thousands of jobs, because everything I just said, laying fiber for broadband, fixing roads, bridges and airports puts people to work in good-paying jobs."

Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin joined all her Democratic colleagues in voting for the plan. Senator Ron Johnson was not among the 17 Senate Republicans who backed the bill saying in a joint statement, "Congress can't keep spending trillions of dollars we don't have."

The federal plan includes $7.5 billion to build a national network of electric vehicle chargers.

That's good for automakers like Fisker and its plans to possibly build an electric vehicle in Wisconsin with Foxconn. Fisker is in conversations with WEDC, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation about the Mount Pleasant facility.

"We want more people to buy EV cars and trucks, but they're not going to do that until we have more charging stations," said Secretary Raimondo. "So, the government here is trying to stimulate that industry by putting money in for a lot more charging stations all around your state."

Commerce and the economy are still facing a familiar threat - a rise in COVID-19 cases with the Delta variant as the pace of people getting vaccinated appears to have leveled off.

In Wisconsin, about 60% of people 18-years and older are fully vaccinated. Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says nearly 50% of all Americans are fully vaccinated.

"The economy looks great; we've cut unemployment rate and a half since the beginning of this year. If everybody would just get vaccinated, we would be in better shape."

The CDC is now calling for wearing face masks again indoors, including people who are fully vaccinated, in areas of the country where the COVID-19 virus is spreading faster.

Just two months ago, President Biden and the CDC said anyone fully vaccinated could go without masks.

Enforcing mask-wearing among leery customers has been both difficult and burdensome for businesses.

Benson: What are you saying to them? What are you hearing from small businesses and big businesses alike?
Secretary Gina Raimondo: We are saying they should make the decisions that are right for them, you know I used to run a business myself, you know we're not going to tell businesses what to do. But it is certainly the case that we all have to do our part and encouraging everybody to get vaccinated and we respect businesses if they want to go in that direction.

Wisconsin's seven-day average of confirmed cases is now 478 per day vs 73 at the start of July. Back in November, the state's 7-day average peaked at about 6,400 confirmed cases.

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