America’s infrastructure suffers from decades of reckless neglect, what bureaucrats and policymakers conceal behind the euphemism of “deferred maintenance.” Decrepit describes the consequences. Myopic describes the attitude. This affects many realms—our public schools, our public health system, our electrical transmission grid and, despite how deeply we Americans treasure personal mobility, our transportation system.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and seven of his colleagues are proposing a $1 trillion infrastructure plan today. As The New York Times reports, they are daring Pr*sident Trump to make good on his promises of infrastructure projects. Patrick Sisson writes:
“From our largest cities to our smallest towns, communities across the country are struggling to meet the challenges of aging infrastructure,” Senator Schumer said in a prepared statement. “Our urban and rural communities have their own unique set of infrastructure priorities, and this proposal would provide funding to address those needed upgrades that go beyond the traditional road and bridge repair.”
The seven other senior Senate Democrats are Bill Nelson (Florida), Bernie Sanders and Patrick J. Leahy (Vermont), Ron Wyden (Oregon), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Maria Cantwell (Washington), and Thomas R. Carper (Delaware).
Schumer and a few other Democrats in addition to those seven have said they would work with Trump on infrastructure if he is willing to cooperate. Good friggin’ luck on that.
As part of his campaign for the White House, Trump proposed his own trillion-dollar infrastructure proposal. But his plan would have merely provided $140 billion in tax credits to construction companies, and those credits would supposedly pay for themselves from new economic activity associated with the infrastructure upgrades. The idea is that the credits would leverage the rest of the trillion dollars from private investment. But that’s something that historically just hasn’t worked because there’s not enough profit in it for private investors.
Schumer said earlier this month that tax credits “won’t get the job done.”
Unlike Trump’s blueprint, the Democratic plan would direct the money to specific areas of concern.
Their plan includes $20 billion for broadband installations, $75 billion for schools, $110 billion for decaying water and sewer systems, $180 billion for expanded mass transit lines, $70 billion for upgraded ports and airports, $100 billion to improve the electrical grid, $10 billion for veterans hospitals, $210 billion for roads and bridges, $200 billion for unspecified “vital infrastructure projects” and $10 billion for an infrastructure bank.
One of the big gains, of course, would be jobs. Every billion dollars in spending produces 13,000 jobs, according to this report.
In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers issued a report card on U.S. infrastructure, giving the nation overall a D+ and concluding that $3.6 trillion would be needed to bring infrastructure up to snuff by 2020.
A $100 billion a year spent on infrastructure may seem like a lot, and, of course, given the make-up of Congress is no doubt a rotten bridge too far.
But the U.S. has a basic Pentagon budget of $580 billion this year. Surely we ought to be spending an equal amount on renovated and innovated infrastructure since it’s a crucial element of national security and crucial to a thriving existence in the modern age. Yet short-sighted politicians have treated it as if it doesn’t really matter, insubstantially patched up or simply left to fall apart.
That’s been as much the case with transportation as elsewhere.
Fixes matter. Decaying bridges can’t be ignored. But too much of our attention in transportation is devoted to repairing, and not enough to rethinking. Important improvements are being made. For example, light rail, a system prevalent in many cities in the days before the internal combustion engine reshaped our lives, is making a comeback a few urban miles at a time. But this is a small effort, piecemeal and underfunded. Vehicle drive-trains are being revamped, but ever so slowly.
Meanwhile, our major modes of transportation poison us, burn two-thirds of the oil we drill at home and import from abroad, make us less secure because of the geopolitics involved in maintaining access to much of that oil, gobble up a scarce resource essential for making other products, extract large hunks of household income, and contribute a third of the CO2 we’re loading into the atmosphere.
And as the Democratic infrastructure proposal notes, transportation is just one arena that needs serious attention. As Terry O’Sullivan, General President of the Laborers’ International Union of North America has said:
“This is the 21st century, but our transportation systems are stuck in the 20th. One of four bridges in the U.S. is structurally deficient or obsolete, more than half the miles we drive on federal highways are on roads in less than good condition and our transit systems are stretched beyond capacity. This is a recipe for falling behind, not competing in the global economy. We can put men and women back to work building America, get our economy on track and leave behind real assets for taxpayers and future generations.”
Originally appeared at DailyKos.