U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta during an interview with Lookout
U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta during an interview with Lookout in April.
(Tulsi Kamath / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Panetta urges passage of infrastructure bill at chamber event: ‘Important not to bargain against ourselves’

U.S. Rep Jimmy Panetta said the passage of a $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill is vital to the nation’s recovery and detailed some of his specific proposals. He spoke Thursday at a Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

U.S. Rep Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel Valley) touted the federal pandemic relief dollars he helped bring to Santa Cruz County at a recent business luncheon, adding it was vital to continue to push for more infrastructure money to allow the region, state and country to come out of its COVID-19 malaise.

Dozens of community members and business owners flocked Thursday to the Chaminade Resort to attend the return of the Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce’s Luncheon Speaker Series. Panetta was the first featured guest in more than a year.

Casey Beyer, chief executive officer of the chamber, was pleased with the return of the speaker series and Panetta’s presentation.

“It was great to bring community and chamber leaders into a safe outdoor environment to listen to Congressman Panetta,” said Beyer. “We are delighted to have the event back.”

FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this piece mischaracterized Phil Cisneros’ statement regarding his hope for the passage of the infrastructure bill.

Panetta said he was happy with the approval of the $1 trillion infrastructure bill last month by the U.S. Senate. In delivering one of President Joe Biden’s highest priorities, it would mean a long-overdue update to the country’s roads, rails, waterways, and broadband, he noted.

However, some Democrats in the House of Representatives, including Panetta, are pushing for a $3.5 trillion companion version of the bill, passage of which is far from assured.

Though he understands some compromises might be necessary — and is approaching the issues with an open mind — there are bottom-line issues that simply need to be addressed.

“It’s important not to bargain against ourselves. We may take things out, or we may add things in,” Panetta said in an interview following the speech. “We must work together not just in times of crisis, but every day.”

Panetta, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the committee has a number of proposals included in the $3.5 trillion version aimed at rebuilding the economy in a more equitable manner. Most notable, he said, were new proposed tax tiers for corporations.

The proposal would raise the corporate tax rate from 21% to 26.5% on businesses with incomes of $5 million or more, maintain a 21% rate for businesses with incomes between $400,000 and $5 million, and lower it to 18% for businesses with incomes under $400,000.

In addition, he said that the country loses up to $1 trillion every year due to unpaid taxes — which the committee aims to address by boosting the ability of the Internal Revenue Service to catch tax cheats. An additional proposal would provide tax credits for greener transportation methods.

“When companies like Santa Cruz Metro want to purchase zero-carbon-producing buses, like they have here, they [would] get a tax credit,” he said. “When you want to get out of your car and get onto an e-bike, you get a tax credit.”

Panetta also praised the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, signed into law in March. Among other provisions, the plan allocated $27 billion to California for the state’s COVID-19 recovery efforts.

The federal government provided Santa Cruz County with significant federal funds as part of that act and other programs. This includes $118 million to city and local governments for sanitation, safety, security, and more.

Additionally, $13 million went to the health care system and hospitals, over $90 million to Santa Cruz County schools, and $90 million to UC Santa Cruz and Cabrillo College. While the county is still battling the pandemic, Panetta called it an opportunity to begin picking up the pieces and moving forward.

“We now have the opportunity to invest in our community,” Panetta said. “More than ever, we need to be responsible right now, and for our future.”

While Panetta repeatedly said that he is working for a better future, there was concern among some attendees that not all of the proposals he spoke about would come to pass.

Phil Cisneros, a business consultant living in Soquel, acknowledged the hard work and effort Panetta and others have put in. However, he knows that there is a long road ahead and we must rally around a shared vision for the future.

“What is the return on the investment of all this hard work?” he asked.

Beyer, meanwhile, acknowledged the challenges lawmakers face and said he’s taking a wait-and-see approach on what makes it into the final infrastructure bill.

“As someone who has worked in Congress, I know what it’s like to be in the trenches,” said Beyer, who was chief of staff for former U.S. Rep. Tom Campbell. “It’s always a grind. Especially when there is such a divide.”