There is no question about it: The U.S. needs to spend more money on highway and bridge replacement and repair. But this also is a fact: America needs to reduce its deficit spending. Is Washington wise enough to reconcile this spend-don’t spend quandary?
Color me skeptical. Nothing in Washington’s behavior suggests it has the collective wisdom to establish priorities and make painful decisions that can foster long-term fiscal soundness—including investing in new highway and bridge construction.
President Obama is proposing that $302 billion be spent over four years on transportation infrastructure. That is a sufficiently large amount, but the president proposes to raise it through tax reform. In other words, it won’t happen: He and the House do not agree on what constitutes reform. More deficit spending will result.
Furthermore, the president proposes to boost highway and bridge spending 22 percent to $199 billion, which is about $50 billion a year for four years. That sounds large except that analysts say $130 billion is needed each year from all levels of government to stabilize the highway system. Does anyone believe local and state governments can come up with the extra $80 billion annually?
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx looks back and says the president’s 2009 stimulus funding law “contributed to the quality of our highways.” It should have: $830 billion is a lot of money. Unfortunately, just $28 billion of the $830 billion pie actually was allotted roads and bridges. Priorities again.
Clearly, highways and bridges were not uppermost in the administration’s mind in 2009 and they aren’t now. As for the nearly bankrupt highway construction fund, the president proposes giving it a $63 billion infusion to keep it limping along rather than, you know, actually fixing it. I’m still looking for the wisdom in all this.