No matter the ultimate winner in the highly unusual 2016 presidential election, it appears Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump can agree on something.
“When it comes to the physical infrastructure, we have to take care of what we already have, upgrade it, modernize it,” the presumptive Democratic nominee said recently. “We’ve had problems here in Washington, we have problems in New York—potholes exploding, all kinds of issues.”
“Rebuild the country’s infrastructure; nobody can do that like me, believe me,” the Republican nominee said. “It will be done on time, on budget, way below costs, way below what anyone ever thought. I look at these roads being built all over the country and I say, ‘I could build these things for one third.’ We have to rebuild our infrastructure: our bridges, our roadways, our airports. You come into LaGuardia Airport, it’s like we’re in a third-world country.”
Whoa, what is this? Common ground? Bipartisanship? An end to mud-slinging?
While “unfit” Donald and “crooked” Hillary exchange pleasantries the next four months trying to win the White House, the two have (quietly) actually agreed on one thing.
The country’s infrastructure is old, unsafe, falling apart and hurting our competitiveness. The American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave the USA a “D” grade on infrastructure. The group says there will be a $1.44 trillion infrastructure funding gap over the next decade.
This will affect exports and productivity and will cost the average American family $3,400 annually. Poor road conditions are blamed for increasing congestion as well as a factor in about one-third of all highway fatalities, so investing in infrastructure will make Americans safer.
Since Reagan’s inauguration (if not the mid-1930s), the Republican Party’s animating purpose has been to roll back the “slow-motion socialism” of the New Deal. Now the party has nominated a presidential candidate whose central economic proposal is an infrastructure plan that he explicitly likens to FDR’s programs.
“If we do what we have to do correctly, we can create the biggest economic boom in this country since the New Deal when our vast infrastructure was first put into place,” Trump writes in his campaign book, Crippled America. “It’s a no-brainer.”
Trump hasn’t put together a specific proposal, but he has described it as a “trillion-dollar rebuilding plan,” which would be “one of the biggest projects this country has ever undertaken.
He also suggests that it would create 13 million jobs — a figure that originates in the Senate Budget Committee’s estimate of how many workers it would take to fully modernize the nation’s infrastructure. Bernie Sanders uses that 13 million number in his infrastructure plan, which is priced at $1 trillion over five years. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, has pledged to create roughly 3.6 million new jobs by spending $275 billion on new infrastructure over a five-year period.
Second, we need to convince the public that infrastructure dollars will be well spent. Much of the anger with Washington started with pork barrel projects. While Washington can always do more to eliminate waste, we need to remind Americans that Congress has largely eliminated earmarks and is doing a better job of getting money to where it is needed most and will have the greatest national impact.
“We simply need more money—public and private,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce concludes in its white paper on infrastructure. “Raising the gas tax (unchanged since Bill Clinton raised it in 1993) is not a popular idea in Washington, but a modest, phased-in increase makes a lot of sense.”
But the Chamber and other innovative infrastructure thinkers say not all the money must come from government. The Chamber estimates there is $250 billion in global private capital available for infrastructure investment.
“We must remove the barriers that keep this money from being spent,” the Chamber urges.
Also, the next president must beat back simplistic solutions that won’t work. Some think that Washington can just send money back to the states and be done with it.
“That’s wrong,” the Chamber concludes. “We have a national system operating in a global economy. We need a comprehensive approach, or we’ll end up with a patchwork of problems.
Infrastructure matters. And the longer we wait to address these problems, the more expensive they will be—and the more our economy, incomes, and safety will suffer.
While other nations have increased infrastructure investment as a percentage of GDP, that figure is dropping in the United States. We can’t fall behind. We must act now.
By Jeff Berman, via Logistics Managment