As the dysfunctional presidential primary continues to rage, one of the leading contenders is suggesting that he has the ability to make America great again.
I realize the country has some issues, but I don't think we need to make it great. We just need to keep it that way. Even with its warts and blemishes, it is not such a bad piece of geography, and I'm not at all sure that turning Wall Street into a shopping mall, expelling the immigrants, and building a wall around us is going to be an improvement.
However, if building something is on the mind, I think the nation's highway infrastructure might be a good place to start. As far as I know, not one candidate has expressed a meaningful view on dealing with this ongoing critical problem.
That's not to say infrastructure has disappeared from the public policy agenda. In the absence of legislative progress on this and other issues, an organization called "No Labels" has stepped in to fill the gap. The foundational premise of this group, chaired by Joe Lieberman and Jon Huntsman, former Utah governor, is that our problems are eminently solvable. In what it calls a policy playbook, the organization lays out a set of 60 proposals that "support good politics and good policy" that it would like to see considered by the next president
Certainly, not everyone will agree with all 60, but there are two that should be of interest to those working in the supply chain and other users of roads and bridges. Idea number 28 reminds us that our infrastructure is in increasingly poor condition, given a grade of D+ by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Thirty-two percent of major roads are mediocre at best, and 63,000 bridges need significant repairs. The funding gap will be $4.7 trillion by 2040. The suggested fix is one we have heard before—i.e., create an infrastructure bank that will rely on public-private partnerships to "design, build, finance, operate, and maintain" the public infrastructure. The bank would be funded by the federal government and led by a bipartisan group. Each project would be undertaken by a public-private partnership and funded by taxes, tolls, and other dedicated revenue. The group cites polls showing that 62 percent of those surveyed were in favor of the plan, but I am sure that many will object to increased tolling and the government's abdication of its legislative responsibility to provide a national infrastructure system.
Idea 29 seems to be an attempt to compromise on a delicate subject: raising the fuel tax. The group supports increasing the tax, but with the revenues split three ways, with equal portions going to reducing personal income taxes, reducing the federal deficit, and shoring up the Highway Trust Fund. I think this is a weak suggestion and no doubt springs from the belief that few politicians will vote for a straightforward increase in the fuel tax. What we need, of course, is an increase in this 1993-level tax with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the Highway Trust Fund.
In the meantime, I continue to be intrigued by the fact that state legislators don't seem to have the job security fears or paranoia that members of Congress evidently do. North Dakota and South Carolina recently joined the growing ranks of states that are acting where Congress will not. Over the past few years, several states have raised their fuel taxes by anywhere from $0.035 to $0.10 per gallon. Iowa, for example, with an increase of $0.10 hopes to raise $215 million for its infrastructure improvements. While it is easy to understand why they are acting, there is always the risk that in doing what is good for the state, they may overlook what is best for the national network.