Budget goblins needlessly scare off infrastructure spending
Tight state budgets prompt some politicians, such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, to cancel or put off infrastructure investments in tunnels, roads, and rail. That's shortsighted.
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“To say ‘now is not the time’ shows a very narrow vision,’’ Matt David, communications director for Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, told The New York Times. Gubernatorial challengers in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida also question Recovery Act rail projects in their states.Skip to next paragraph
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Pennsylvania’s needs are more along the lines of the mundane, but necessary. California’s project shows foresight that will avoid the need to pave more highways and build more runways. Both projects create jobs and ultimately connect businesses and people so commerce can grow.
A country that built the national highway system and Hoover Dam, but which faces sagging power, transport, and water infrastructure, should not be discouraged by today’s weak economy.
The private sector can play a greater role. Witness this week’s news that Google and a New York financial firm plan to invest in a proposed $5 billion power transmission backbone along the Eastern Seaboard. The project is to carry electricity generated by offshore wind farms.
Both taxpayers and government need to think differently about infrastructure. It’s a priority investment with long-term benefits – not a cost to be perpetually put off.
States would be in a better position to make this investment if they, for instance, renegotiated burdensome, bloated pension plans for their public employees and broke the cozy relationship between elected officials and expensive unionized labor.
Taxpayers, too, must recognize that, as users of roads and other services, they have a responsibility to help pay for maintenance and future needs.The federal gasoline tax hasn’t been increased since 1993. The 18.4-cents-per-gallon tax helps fund highways and bridges.
At the state level, drivers in New Jersey pay about half what New Yorkers pay in state gasoline taxes. New Jersey’s state fund for highway improvements, which is fueled by that tax, is about to run dry. Reportedly, this is one reason why Governor Christie wants to cancel the tunnel project.
He should. But unless the rest of the nation also rethinks, America will fall further behind in the infrastructure race, while Switzerland, China, and many other countries plow ahead.