Nearly ten percent of our bridges are deficient or decrepit, a quarter of our schools are in fair or poor condition. More than half of all schools need major repairs before they can be classified as good, but 31 states spend less on school construction now than they did in 2008.
Forty percent of our urban highways are congested, and traffic fatalities are up. Fewer than half of us could get to a grocery store using public transportation.
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) produces a report card on our nation’s infrastructure, grading sixteen categories, including roads, bridges, public transportation, levees, aviation, hazardous waste, dams, ports, energy, and more. The 2017 report gives our infrastructure a D+, noting that our infrastructure has earned a “persistent D” since 1998.
Our railways earn the highest grade, B, despite aging infrastructure and insufficient investment in passenger railways. Ports, which receive most of our overseas trade, bridges (despite major failures, and funding challenges), and solid waste all rise from the D swamp with C+ grades. But the other twelve categories; schools, parks, drinking water, aviation, wastewater, dams, energy, inland waterways, hazardous waste, roads, transit, and levees, earn a D or a D+.
The ASCE report card (www.infrastructurereportcard.org) is likely to make you holler and throw up your hands. You can buy a family of four a hearty five-star dinner if you got a dollar for every time the words “aging,” “hazard,” “shortfall,” “underfunded,” “investment gap,” “backlog,” or “deferred” are mentioned.
Infrastructure is important in our nation’s economic development. ASCE reports that every dollar spent on highway improvement returns $5.20 in decreased delays, vehicle maintenance, and fuel construction, and increased safety. Poor maintenance of our ports costs us international trade, and the condition of our dams, levees and waterways probably compounded the damage from hurricanes in Texas and Florida.
No. 45 promised to tackle infrastructure, and he had bipartisan support for the sentiment. Upon election, he abandoned infrastructures to pick a fight with enemies, real and imagine, fire the man investigating his Russian involvement and make several futile attempts to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act.
He finally hit fool’s gold with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, and inappropriately named a piece of legislation that would more accurately be named the Corporate Enrichment and Deficit Expansion Act of 2017.
Now that the Republican Congress has committed to $1.5 trillion more in national debt, No. 45 says he wants to tackle infrastructure, and he expects bipartisan support. He says infrastructure was an “easy” win, while tax “reform” was more challenging. Now he’s ready to manage infrastructure issues.
ASCE says at least $2 trillion is needed to bring infrastructure up to snuff, with another $200 billion plus needed annually to keep infrastructure in good repair. No. 45 proposes a $1 trillion plan, and talks about public-private partnerships, which seems to suggest more tax breaks for his corporate buddies.
Where do we find $1 trillion, let alone the $2 trillion necessary for infrastructure repair? That’s the hoax in No. 45’s current embrace for infrastructure.
Investing in infrastructure is more economically impactful than tax cuts, but it doesn’t necessarily give corporations a break. So, No. 45 put something that could make a major difference on the back burner, so he could reward his supporters.
Now he will have to both fight his own party and struggle to gain Democratic support for his infrastructure plan.
While the president says he has prioritized infrastructure, House Speaker Paul Ryan wants to focus on “entitlement reform.” That means he wants to cut public assistance, food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Other Republicans want to cut the deficit they just committed to growing. They won’t be interested in any new programs, even if they are infrastructure programs.
So, No. 45, the Joker, is trying to trick us again. Anyone who has driven down a bumpy highway, been washed out by hurricane waters, or witnessed a bridge collapse will agree that our infrastructure needs attention. But mouthing the word is different from finding the money.
We might have had the money to tackle infrastructure before we committed to a pricey corporate tax giveaway. How will we way pay for infrastructure now? More debt? Program cuts? Profit-generating toll roads that that enrich No. 45’s friends at public expense?
Or perhaps we’ll be jolted into action when another bridge collapses?
Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer.