Sen. Proposes $1T for Infrastructure
One of two independent U.S. Senators has proposed investing $1 trillion over five years in infrastructure, saying the plan would create 13 million living-wage jobs and make good on a long-overdue commitment to improving the nation's failing system.
"... I could tell you," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, told reporters last week. "If you turn your back on infrastructure and you don't invest, do you know what happens? It gets worse. It doesn't get better all by itself."
Sanders' Rebuild America Act is a more-expensive version of a bill that has failed twice before. And though the pricey proposal is a long shot, Sanders is pressing it with the enthusiastic endorsement of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
ASCE's last Report Card for America's Infrastructure, for 2013, gave the U.S. system a D+ overall and called for $3.6 trillion in spending by 2020.
"Our infrastructure is collapsing, and the American people know it," Sanders wrote last week in an op-ed in The Hill.
"Every day, they drive on roads with unforgiving potholes, over bridges that are in disrepair and wait in traffic jams on congested roads. They see railroads and subways that arrive late and that are overcrowded.
"They see airports bursting at the seams. They worry that a local levee could fail in a storm."
Sanders' bill, summarized here with the full text here, would inject an additional $75 billion a year into the Highway Trust Fund, create a national infrastructure bank, and expand financing and grant programs. It would fund improvements for freight and passenger rail, airports, roads and bridges, ports, waterways and more.
ASCE says the U.S. sees more than 240,000 water main breaks each year, and much of the nation's water system is more than a century old.
The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), ranking member of the Appropriations Committee.
The cost of the bill may be jaw-dropping (current annual federal transportation spending is about $50 billion), but so is the cost of continuing along the current course, proponents say.
"By taking steps to invest in our nation’s infrastructure, the U.S. can protect $3.1 trillion in GDP, $1.1 trillion in U.S. trade value and 3.5 million jobs, and a little over $3,000 a year per family," said ASCE senior managing director Casey Dinges.
"Without these investments, infrastructure—the backbone of our nation’s economy—will continue to decline and Americans will pay the price.”
Sanders says the current disrepair of U.S. infrastructure "already costs the economy close to $200 billion a year, and if we don't make these investments now, they will simply cost us more than longer we wait."
Investment in infrastructure is expensive, but so is lack of investment, according to ASCE.
The World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Competitiveness Report ranks U.S. infrastructure as 12th best in the world, and U.S. spending on infrastructure is now 2.4 percent of GDP—its lowest level in 20 years.
Europe spends five percent on infrastructure; China, nine percent, Sanders said.
Paying for It
Sanders isn't saying where the money for his bill would come from. Some lawmakers have been discussing increasing the federal gas tax, while others are suggesting taxing corporate overseas earnings.
Sanders isn't pushing either idea. He says a plan can be worked out but concedes that it will stir "a real debate."
Senate Majority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner said last month on 60 Minutes that they would support a plan to revitalize infrastructure, as long as it did not involve raising taxes on the wealthy.
Sanders told The Real News that a solution was long overdue: "When you have hedge fund managers in this country paying a lower effective tax rate than firemen or nurses, I think there are progressive ways to raise the money."