CONVERSATIONS WITH HJM
By: Valerie Skvirsky, Government Relations Associate
“I think what has surprised me. . ., is just how vast and complex the infrastructure law is…it’s 375 different programs, and I’m not sure if there exists just one single expert on every single program anywhere. But in a role like this, you try to become an instant expert on as much as you possibly can. What’s helpful about. . .chairing the sub-cabinet, is just seeing kind of the whole playing field and trying to get all the players where they need to be to try and make this a success for the people of the State.”
In November 2021, President Biden signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), a “once-in-a-generation investment” in our nation’s infrastructure. Anticipated to provide $1.2 trillion, including $550 billion in new spending over five years, this record funding will go towards core infrastructure projects, including transportation, broadband, water, energy, disaster mitigation & resiliency, and cybersecurity.
- Roads, Bridges, & Major Projects: $110 billion—the single largest dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the interstate highway system.
- Passenger and Freight Rail: $66 billion—largest federal investment in rail since Amtrak.
- Public Transit: $39.2 billion—largest federal investment towards public transit in history.
- Airports: $25 billion
- Ports and Waterways: $16.6 billion
- Safety: $11 billion
- Electric Vehicle Charging: $7.5 billion
- Clean School Buses & Ferries: $7.5 billion
- Reconnecting Communities: $1 billion
Climate, Energy, Environment highlights:
- Water Infrastructure: $55 billion
- Western Water Infrastructure: $8.3 billion
- Power and Grid: $65 billion
- Resiliency: $47.2 billion
- Addressing Legacy Pollution: $21 billion
- Broadband: $65 billion
The bipartisan deal is said to boost the economy, improve our country’s competitiveness, generate new jobs, and make our economy overall more robust and sustainable. Since its implementation, the White House infrastructure coordinator, Mitch Landrieu, wrote to all Governors requesting that they establish and appoint a central point of contact to oversee the implementation at the state level. In January, Governor Hogan established the Governor’s Subcabinet on Infrastructure and named Deputy Chief of Staff, Allison Mayer, Chair.
Before joining Governor Hogan’s office in 2019, Mayer, originally from South Carolina, brought years of experience in communications, marketing, and economic development. Her first foray into the world of government began when she interned in the South Carolina Senate Medical Affairs Committee at the University of South Carolina. Once she had graduated, Mayer began working at the South Carolina Ports Authority in the public relations realm. From there, she started to find her passion for public service, stating that “…what has kept me engaged in public service, is this idea of…being a part of something much larger than yourself…” After nearly nine years at the Port, Mayer joined the South Carolina Department of Commerce during Governor Nikki Haley’s term, focusing primarily on economic development. There, Mayer shared that “… working in communications in [Haley’s] administration … [in] what was her primary focus, was…a great learning opportunity.”. In 2019, a few years after her move to Maryland, she joined Governor Hogan’s administration, becoming the Deputy Chief of Staff and as of recently, the Chair of the Subcabinet on Infrastructure. . . Flattered to be appointed to such a crucial position, Mayer, and her team, have been working on creating a structure to start shepherding the implementation process to establish the “initial kick-off phase” of the IIJA for Maryland, as she shared with me to “…make this a success for the people of the State.”.
Maryland is presumed to receive approximately $7.5 billion over the next five years in formula funding, with the majority of the funds going towards the transportation program—most notably, the Maryland Department of Transportation’s (MDOT) State Highway Administration is slated to receive $4.6 billion. The State also has opportunities to compete for grants, which Mayer explained as something that the Hogan administration is spending a lot of time strategizing to ensure that only the strongest applications are considered for these different grant programs. Mayer expressed how much Maryland has an opportunity to accelerate, especially with priority projects in each of its counties, stating that “… we want to make sure that no communities get left behind…every county’s priority is a priority for our administration.” She also noted how excited she is about the new National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure program, where the administration is primarily working with MDOT on the best way to execute the program, and broadband—an area where Maryland surpasses many other states. Under the IIAJ bill, every state, including Maryland, is expected to receive around $100 million for broadband. However, because this is a five-year distribution plan, the delivery of these funds under IIAJ the bill for these core infrastructure projects will be based more on a rolling timeline than particular dates.
In addition to her duties as the Deputy Chief of Staff, and with the 2022 gubernatorial election approaching, Mayer and the other members of the Subcabinet are working tirelessly to begin the kick-off for the implementation of the IIJA in Maryland. Thankfully, Mayer was able to take time out of her busy schedule to talk to me about her new role and what the IIJA will mean for Maryland.
Where are you from and what got you into public service?
I am originally from South Carolina…grew up outside of the State capital, Columbia, and ended up going to the University of South Carolina, Go Gamecocks! And sort of my first foray into the world of public service was through a program at USC [University of South Carolina] where students from the Honors College could apply to be in a sort of public sector driven program and you can select what part of the state government you would kind of intern in. So, it was an internship program and kind of… a public policy type of forum that met once a week. And at the time, I was considering, of all things, kind of the medical and healthcare industry which…the pendulum swung to the complete other side of the house for me, but I wanted to work. I ended up working in the South Carolina Senate Medical Affairs Committee. So, I interned in that committee and that was really my first foray into the world of government. When I graduated in 2004 and moved to Charleston, South Carolina, where I wanted to be at the time…out of necessity, I was just applying to jobs that kind of fit in the mold of public relations and communications which was my degree. I happened to be hired at the South Carolina Ports Authority in the PR [Public Relations] area and loved it! So, you know, it was a quasi-public agency and it just opened my eyes to the world of ports, the maritime community… and you know for people that say relationships don’t matter, one of the reasons why I was able to get that job was going back to that internship…I ended up staying at the Port for a little under nine years and from there, worked for the South Carolina Department of Commerce. That was a period of time from 2013 to 2015 when Governor Nikki Haley was in office in South Carolina…and economic development was her main focus. So, you know, working in communications in her administration for what was her primary focus was, you know, a great learning opportunity and so ultimately…how did I get to Maryland after all of this! I ended up meeting my husband there [South Carolina]. He is a native Marylander, and when Governor Hogan was elected in 2014, he had the opportunity to come home and contribute here. Similar kind of background…he relocated back to Maryland working for the Governor, and then I followed suit a few months later, again moving in more the economic development role for a number of years in the first term, and then joined his office in 2019. So, you know, a long-convoluted type of answer to your original question… I guess what drew me to public service, was at the time…more necessity. I had to find a job! And what has kept me engaged in public service, is this idea of you know being a part of something much larger than yourself. Being in a very mission-driven environment, especially in the roles that I’ve had in my career that were based in creating jobs and stimulating the economy…I take it to heart that you represent the hopes and aspirations of the people you represent…being part of that is what’s kept me in it.
On top of your duties as the Deputy Chief of Staff to the Governor’s Office, you get appointed as the Chair of the Governor’s Subcabinet on Infrastructure. How did you approach your new leadership position, and was there anything that surprised you?
With the infrastructure implementation back in January, the White House and infrastructure coordinator, a guy named Mitch Landrieuwrote to all the Governors and asked them to appoint a central point of contact to lead the implementation at the state level. So, at the federal level, he’s the White House appointee that’s coordinating the more than dozen federal agencies that have a hand in this thing. Similarly, at the state level, this crosscuts multiple agencies, so, as I like to tell people…programs like ARPA [American Rescue Plan] are pretty cut and dry…very simple straight line from the US Treasury, down to the States. The infrastructure law, by contrast, is something like 375 programs. Some pre-existed the law, some are new… there are a dozen federal agencies involved…so there’s a lot of directing of funds from that level on, down to different pots of funding at the state level. I think it made a lot of sense to ask the Governors to appoint someone to try to shepherd that process through…and they really wanted someone at the Governor’s office level that could work hand-in-hand with the agencies so that there’s no duplication of efforts or issues with agencies that sort of exist in their in silos and don’t talk to each other about what projects would move forward. So, I think it was a logical role. I was happy to agree to take it on. I was flattered to be asked by the Governor here, in the last year, to try to create a structure and start shepherding this process since it is a five-year implementation. So, we’re here for the initial kind of kick-off phase of it… it’s great to kind of establish what we think is a nice structure through the subcabinet. In my role as the Deputy Chief of Staff, I already worked with a number of the secretaries that are part of the Subcabinet on just the day-to-day operations within their agencies. I think what has surprised me about it so far, is just how vast and complex the infrastructure law is. As I said, it’s 375 different programs, and I’m not sure if there exists just one single expert on every single program anywhere. But in a role like this, you try to become an instant expert on as much as you possibly can…and I do feel like I’m a mile wide and an inch deep on some of this material. But what’s helpful about having a role like this, chairing the Subcabinet, is just seeing kind of the whole playing field and trying to get all the players where they need to be to try and make this a success for the people of the State.
What does the Infrastructure bill mean for Maryland? Can you talk about what some of the highlights are?
So, what we know so far is that Maryland is slated to receive a little over $7.5 billion over the five-year period in formula funding. This is funding that Maryland receives that is based on the federal government’s funding formula which a number of factors go into. On top of that, we have the opportunity to compete for discretionary and competitive grants, so that’s not, you know, funds that we’re guaranteed to receive… but would be nice on top of the formula funding. So, we’re really spending a lot of time trying to strategize on the strongest applications that we can put forward within the different grant programs that are being released. There’s been a handful of them that are already underway in terms of application periods. But throughout the rest of the year, those Notices of Funding Opportunities, or NOFOs, will continue to go live…so we’ll continue monitoring for those opportunities as they move forward. Of the $7.5 billion, there are some caveats involved because the largest formula funding, of course, goes into our transportation programs. Of that, State Highway is slated to receive over the five years, about $4.6 billion. Of that, $3.6 billion is already programmed within our six-year capital plan, which means a billion dollars in additional funding for the five years. So, what I think that means for Maryland…the opportunity here is to really try to accelerate as much as possible…the priority projects that we have ongoing in the counties and try to deliver the county priorities so that there is equitable distribution of funds, across the entire State. We want to make sure that no community gets left behind. That every county’s priority is a priority for our administration.
Have there been any notable priority projects across the State that you are particularly excited about that you can share with those who follow the conversation series?
Good question…what I’ll say is that we’re in the process now of working with the counties on identifying those priority projects so that, as we move toward announcements for the infrastructure funding, everyone is on the same page and that we are able to advance those priorities. There are a couple of programs that I do want to highlight because I think they are interesting and new! So, one interesting opportunity that we have is through a program called NEVI, the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure program. So, for the first time, the federal government is making available funds to States to install electric vehicle charging infrastructure. And so, we’re working through primarily MDOT on a process that’s identifying how we’re going to execute that program. The other one is broadband…that’s an area where Maryland has a leg up on a lot of our other States. Unfortunately, I’ve learned that some states have not established broadband offices yet, which is a little frightening. . .but we have a very strong broadband office here with an expanded scope that is a statewide mission. All we know about the infrastructure bill funding as it relates to broadband is that every State is to be receiving at least $100 million. Beyond that, we will find out what the formula funding is sometime later this year. Until then, we do have the $400 million plan that the Governor and the legislature announced last year. . .that’s being allocated now for various grant programs for broadband. So that’s going really well! I’m glad that we have that underway, and then I see the infrastructure money coming on top of that to again augment our existing efforts.
Can you give me a general overview/summary of the timeframe or schedule for the distribution of the funds? When do you think these projects will break ground?
I think it’s really going to be a rolling timeline since it is a five-year distribution. Things like the transportation projects I think will be making announcements starting over the summer in terms of how the infrastructure dollars are going to be allocated. That will of course go hand-in-hand with transportation announcing the new. . .they call it the CTP, the Consolidated Transportation Program, which is formally debuted in the fall. I think other projects and announcements will just be on a rolling basis depending on, I hate to say this, but for some of the projects that we want to move forward on, we do have to get federal agency approval before we can really get everything out. So, it’s really going to be throughout the year. I wish there was an exact date where everything is going to be announced and ready to go at an exact time, but it’s going to be more of a rolling basis, I think.