A Bump in The Road Toward Getting America Back To Work

Last night, the United States Senate voted to reject President Obama’s $447 billion jobs plan. Recall that the bill, filed by the President on September 12 and styled the “American Jobs Act of 2011”, includes a mix of tax cuts, extensions of expiring jobless benefits, and new spending on infrastructure – including roads, railways and schools. The bill also includes an expansion of the discretionary TIGER grant programs, and the increasingly popular TIFIA loan program. Big picture, it was designed by the White House as its plan to keep the country out of a recession in the coming year.

Last week, the President stated that:

In Maine, there is a bridge that is in such bad shape that pieces of it were literally falling off the other day. And, meanwhile, we’ve got millions of laid-off construction workers who could right now be busy rebuilding roads, rebuilding bridges, rebuilding schools. This jobs bill gives them a chance to get back to work rebuilding America. Why wouldn’t we want that to happen? Why would you vote against that?”

While the President’s plan seems to be failing in the Congress, at least there is the beginning of a conversation about our infrastructure needs, and some signals that it may be reconsidered in piecemeal fashion. In late September, Chief Executive Officers from some of America’s largest corporations, including Doug Oberhelman of Caterpillar, Matthew Rose of BNSF Railway and Scott Davis of UPS, called for a renewed commitment toward infrastructure investment, writing:

Our transportation infrastructure has become inadequate to meet the needs of the 21st Century economy. We must prioritize and invest in our aging infrastructure now if we are to maintain our economic competitiveness and leadership in the global economy."

Attention to the issue is past due. As just one reason why, last month the Texas Transportation Institute released a report in which it estimated that urban road congestion made U.S. drivers buy 1.9 billion gallons of extra fuel in 2010 and caused them to pay an extra $101 billion in total costs.

While the conversation is overdue, it may also be familiar to long-time observers. In 1982, when America was also in a recession, Ronald Reagan found a way to support an increase in the Federal gas tax from 4 cents per gallon to 9 cents per gallon (now at 18.4 cents) – noting in his address to the nation on November 27, 1982 that it wasn’t really a tax but a fee that would cost the average user about $30 per year, that “America cannot afford throwaway roads or disposable transit systems”, and that “we simply cannot allow this magnificent system to deteriorate beyond repair.”

Proving, once again, that the issues don’t go away if we fail to pay attention to them.


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