Wednesday, May 20, 2015

America needs a long-term infrastructure solution

Congress has a work completion problem. The latest example came yesterday when the House approved a two-month extension of the Highway Trust Fund, which makes dollars available for transportation projects and maintenance. And the Senate is likely to follow suit by the end of the week.

More road construction would put Americans to work.
Stymied by gridlock, Capitol Hill lawmakers are ignoring the huge problems of U.S. infrastructure investment. Trillions are needed to improve roads, bridges, rail, mass transit, airports and ports in this country, but elected officials continually punt on the problem. Time is running short, however, as the Teamsters and others have repeatedly said.

The White House, frustrated by inaction, used yesterday's House action to call Congress on the mat. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx noted in a blog that Tuesday's vote was the 33rd short-term funding measure in the last six years. He said the nation is suffering because of it:
On the surface, funding transportation drop-by-drop might not seem like such a big problem. But it is, and the facts are unassailable. This era of short-term patches and chronic federal underinvestment has crippled America’s ability to build the transportation system we need.
Both parties admit there has been a policy failure. But as an article in The Atlantic points out, the problem comes down to how to pay for such investment going forward:
The most popular alternative at the moment is to use revenue generated by taxing repatriated earnings that U.S. companies now keep overseas. But there is disagreement over the details of that proposal, and Republicans believe it would only work if included in a broader tax-reform plan—an even heavier political lift. In fact, the reason Congress is reauthorizing the Highway Trust Fund for just two months is because lawmakers couldn’t agree on how to fund it for the remainder of the year, let alone for the rest of the decade. It has enough money to last through July, and Republicans are reluctant to simply transfer more money from the Treasury’s general fund, as they have done in the past. As a result, Congress probably will have to pass yet another extension this summer, which would be the third in the last year. A highway bill lasting for more than two years hasn’t passed on Capitol Hill in a decade. 
The stopgap funding is bad, advocates say, because the biggest infrastructure projects can takes years of planning, and states won’t start them without knowing how much money they’ll get from the federal government. Industry officials estimate that $2 billion in projects have already been pulled back so far this year because of the inaction in Washington. 
All of this is frankly unacceptable. Now should be the time to build, repair and maintain America! But many on Capitol Hill seems more than happy to ignore our infrastructure woes. That decision not only hurts those who commute to work and earn a living on the road, it also prevents putting people to work earning good middle-class wages in transportation construction.

Lawmakers must do a better job here. They were elected to get things done, but instead offer only platitudes on why they're not. Investing in infrastructure would help businesses and workers alike, and would boost the economy.

Come on, Congress! Let's get America working!