For the past three years, Americans have heard repeatedly about the need for an ambitious federal program to upgrade the nation’s infrastructure. Bridges, roads, locks, airports and other facilities are in dire need of maintenance. The current health crisis has added a new dimension to the issue, since an infrastructure program could provide a much-needed stimulus to an economy that is reeling.
The time for action is now. This type of program puts large numbers of people to work, so it will mitigate a rapidly increasing unemployment rate in the nation. Also, heading into the fall election, both the president and members of Congress can finally make good on past promises regarding infrastructure.
Since 2017, the debate has widened, so now citizens are demanding that an infrastructure bill include water systems, brownfields, electric grids and rural broadband. Some climate change concerns can be addressed.
Nearly a year ago, the White House and Democratic leaders agreed on the broad outlines of a plan. But it didn’t have the full support of the Senate, and it never moved forward.
Now that Congress has approved a huge emergency relief bill in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he would move slowly on any additional relief bill, including infrastructure.
McConnell is right to be asking how to pay for this. The huge relief bill has already increased the federal debt in an unprecedented way, and he wants to know where additional money is coming from.
An infrastructure bill should move forward, as long as it includes the raising of new revenue. Right now the average price of gasoline across the nation is the lowest it has been since 1993. So a temporary increase in the federal gas tax is a reasonable and not too painful way to generate revenue for this purpose. In 2015, a House member, Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C., proposed a 10-cent-per-gallon increase over five years to pay for transportation projects. His idea merits another look.
If members of Congress choose campaigning for re-election over action on infrastructure, the nation will be the loser.
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