During the Great Depression one of the most successful ways at getting people back to work was to invest in the nation’s infrastructure. By building roads, bridges, and dams the government was able to employee people in construction, and in turn this stimulated the economy in other sectors. The investment in infrastructure lowered long term cost to the government, and promoted business investment. There has not been the same kind of investment during the Great Recession.
Today Republican Congressman John Mica, Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, issued a press release announcing a six-year $230 billion transportation reauthorization proposal. The press release claims that the proposal “streamlines and reforms federal programs, expedites the project approval process, maximizes leveraging of limited resources, provides flexibility for states, and ensures long-term funding stability for job-creating transportation programs.” The seventeen page proposal calls for cutting the transportation budget by a third, eliminating 70% of programs that are “duplicative or do not serve a federal purpose.” The proposal also delegates more authority to the states, allows the states to toll new lanes of the interstates system, and removes barriers to the privatization of public transportation.
In response, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, held a press conference during which she read a statement and answered reporters’ questions. Boxer said in her prepared statement that her committee is working to “develop a bipartisan transportation proposal that will support current funding levels, and create jobs.” According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, the two-year $109 billion Senate proposal calls for finding $12 billion in new tax revenue from an unspecified source to maintain existing funding levels for construction of roads, bridges and mass transit. Boxer cited statistics from the Federal Highway Administration stating that almost 500,000 jobs would be lost if Congress were to act on the House passed budget plan and impose significant cuts to our transportation programs.
In a rare consensus from labor and business, the Hill reported that AFL-CIO and Chamber of Commerce both opposed the proposal from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumpka said that it is “astonishing and unconscionable that the House Republican leadership would push a surface transportation re-authorization bill that would gut current infrastructure investment by a third and obliterate over half a million jobs in the next year alone.” U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Director of Transportation and Infrastructure Janet Kavinoky said that “cuts will destroy – rather than support — existing jobs and will not enablecreation of the additional jobs needed to put the 16.3% of unemployed workers in the construction industry back to work.”
As the Center for American Progress reported earlier this year, Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, the Budget Committee Chairman, proposed budget claimed to generate savings through consolidation of duplicative programs, but the numbers just didn’t add up. What is clear is that in the current political climate, the Republican leadership is going to be hard pressed to come up with the funding necessary to properly fund transportation and infrastructure spending. This isn’t being fiscally conservative; this is pushing the problem down the road.