Bill Knight column for Mon, Tues., or Wed., July 20, 21 or 22
Adding dumbness to danger, lawmakers in Springfield and Washington have done little, like their batteries are dead.
The U.S. House last week passed an $8 billion, stop-gap measure to fund infrastructure through Dec. 18, but it’s opposed by Republican Senators and also Democrats who object to its funding: taking money from federal workers’ pensions.
Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois said, “They’re never going to move that bill.”
GOP Senators want to push the next highway deadline to after the 2016 election.
Meanwhile, the money that federal, state and local governments together spend on such construction has dropped compared to the overall economy since 2000.
In May, during “Infrastructure Week” – assisted by groups as varied as the AFL-CIO and the National Association of Manufacturers – labor federation president Richard Trumka said, “Talk is cheap in Washington. We hear a lot of noise about priorities, but we see very little action.
“Well, let me give you an American priority,” Trumka continued, “– one shared by working people and business leaders everywhere: big public investments in America’s infrastructure. Roads. Bridges. Sewers. Pipelines. Transit. Waterways. Ports. Electrical grids. Airports. Internet and phone lines. Drinking water.
“Those investments benefit everybody,” he added. “Those investments create jobs. Those investments build America.”
It’s not just unions, contractors, businesses like trucking companies or railroads that call for adequate funding to fix America’s infrastructure. The “Accelerate Illinois” group, which advocates for an increase in the gas tax tied to inflation, includes ComEd and Illinois PIRG (Public Interest Research Group), the Illinois Soybean Association and AARP.
The gas tax in Illinois has been the same for more than 20 years, so its relative value has declined as inflation has gone up. Worse, more than $100 million in transportation user-fee revenues in recent years were diverted to non-transportation spending by Illinois’ state government.
Ray LaHood - the former moderate Republican Congressman from downstate Illinois’ 18th District and also President Obama’s Transportation Secretary – endorsed raising the gas tax a dime a gallon to pay for the country’s crumbling infrastructure. However, despite backing from various groups and deadlines for the highway-mass transit bill and the Highway Trust Fund that pays for such projects, the proposal was dismissed by the Republican-dominated Senate Transportation Committee, which seems to oppose all tax hikes.
The federal gas tax hasn’t gone up in 22 years and remains at 18.4 cents a gallon. With no new highway-mass transit law, the feds can’t collect it after July 31.
Federal legislation could create jobs as well as repair and replace roads, bridges and transit systems. Calculations show that every $1 billion spent on such projects means 40,000 construction jobs.
“Whether it’s on our roads, in the air, in our ports or on our rails – our nation’s infrastructure is falling apart,” LaHood said. “That is causing us to lose our economic competitiveness and to negatively impact our quality of life. The nation’s roads are essentially one big pothole.”
Deteriorating bridges and roads also cost people money and time, LaHood added: $800 per driver a year due to congestion on major roads, repairs, etc.
After the Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia in May – at least indirectly linked to inadequate maintenance and a rail system incapable of letting trains travel as fast as other countries’ – former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers told the New York Times that more spending on infrastructure would make accidents less likely and bring economic benefits.
“A major infrastructure investment program would reduce long-run deferred maintenance liabilities, raise demand and G.D.P., put construction workers back to work and raise investment,” said Summers, an economics professor and president emeritus of Harvard University. “Interest rates may not always be as low as they are now, so it’s high time to get started.”
Does Congress need a jump-start?
“OK. Now try it.”
[PICTURED: Graphic from the American Society of Civil Engineers.]