On Labor Day, President Barack Obama called on Congress to pass $50 billion in spending on U.S. infrastructure. According to the White House, the plan seeks to “expand and renew our nation’s roads, railways and runways” over the next 5-6 years. Campaign season is in full swing and school just started back in several parts of the country, so I’m sure this plan will start being called “The 3 R’s of Infrastructure.” I’m also sure you can imagine what the Republican response to this plan is without me having to mention it, but I will. According to an interview cited by The Wall Street Journal, the top Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, John Mica of Florida said that he and others in his party would fight the bill. He characterizes it as one that would add heavy taxes to businesses and do little to help the economy (The plan does not mention how it would be paid for, and Congress is the body that sets tax and spending policies, not the president. This plan, as well as any plan proposed by any president, is practically just a suggestion). Rep. Mica had previously advocated that the $500 billion infrastructure bill proposed last year by the Democratic committee chairman, Rep. James Oberstar of Minnesota, would have gained bipartisan support while actually helping the economy. I did say it was campaign season, right?
This is a plan the president put forth in an effort to jumpstart the economy and to minimize Democratic losses this fall. It will not work, I believe, because the plan will not even be taken up in Congress this year (unless for show), much less pass. That being said, I do not think that the plan is without merit. It wants to eliminate the earmarking and formula-based system of infrastructure appropriation and replace it with a project-to-project comparison, using data and cost-benefit analyses. Additionally, beyond hiring the construction workers who would do the actual projects, there would be a ripple that affects material suppliers and equipment manufacturers. They would need to increase production, and potentially payrolls, to accommodate the increase in demand for their products.
Further, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) releases a Report Card on America’s Infrastructure every four years which assigns “grades” to each of the systems that make up the nation’s transportation, water, public facility and energy infrastructures and also provides an overall “grade”(A=Exceptional, B=Good, C=Mediocre, D=Poor, F=Failing). The last report came in 2009 and the cumulative grade America received was…D! This is unacceptable because it is below our nation’s capabilities. The report assesses the basis for each grade and offers solutions—national, local and even personal—for how we can make improvements. The report also estimates for each category the total investment needed over 5 years to achieve a passing grade (A or B); current spending (at all levels); money allocated from the stimulus bill; and the projected shortfall. This is where the title of the post comes into play. The last Report Card grades break down like this, Roads: D-, Railways: C-, Runways (Aviation in the report): D. The projected funding shortfalls are: Roads=$549.5 billion, Railways=$11.7 billion, Runways=$40.7 billion—Total=$601.9 billion. The $50 billion the president proposes is about 8% of what’s needed just for those three categories; it doesn’t even account for categories such as, drinking water, levees, bridges, schools or energy, all of which are important. I think that qualifies the $50 billion as a drop in the bucket!
The ASCE estimates that to bring all infrastructure categories up to passing grades would require an investment of $2.2 trillion over 5 years. The president and the new Congress need to get together in January, put the politics aside and come up with a serious proposal to address several of the needs spelled out in the ASCE report. I know it’s hard to believe, but they have done it before, and with a year before they have to worry about overt presidential election year politics, they can do it again. We citizens—and their re-election bids—would be best served if they did actually do a good job on this. Join the Discourse!
You can view the president’s plan here: President’s Plan
You can view the report on America’s infrastructure here: Report Card on America’s Infrastructure