As the entire world knows by now, our presidential candidates have officially been chosen. From now until November, we will be inundated with TV commercials, junk mail, talk show appearances, and the usual campaign rhetoric.
By the time we enter the booth to cast our vote, most of us will be mentally exhausted, and at least some of us will still be confused by what we have heard, or not heard, from the candidates. Ordinarily, in this era of widely available Internet access, we could simply check the campaign websites to see where the candidates stand on the issues that most concern us. So far this year, that hasn't been too easy to do. While the Democratic website is fairly easy to decipher, the Republican positions seem to be summarized (or not) in tweets from the candidate. (In my opinion, that is a horrible way to communicate on important issues, but that is a subject for another time.)
Even so, as I have done for the past several years, I have tried to determine if either candidate has any new or practical plans to repair our deteriorating infrastructure. By now, it is a well-established fact that we have a problem—a problem that, according to a 2013 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers, would require an estimated investment of $3.6 trillion (of which $1.6 trillion in funding has not yet been allocated) in order for us to patch things up by 2020. Both candidates agree on this.
Notably, they both seem to view infrastructure spending as a vehicle for creating jobs, and the improvements themselves seem to take a back seat in the discussions. And as far as the source of the funds is concerned, neither seems to have any inclination to raise the fuel tax—the most logical and practical approach but admittedly a highly unpopular solution—leaving us with a huge void when it comes time to pay the bills.
Well, what are the suggested solutions? The Republican plan is the easiest to explain since there really is none. All that the party's nominee has told us is that repairing the infrastructure will be a "major priority project" and that no one can accomplish it but him. In his book Crippled America, Donald Trump wrote, "There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that stimulates the economy better than construction." Citing his track record of construction/redevelopment projects (among them a skating rink in New York, a railyard overlooking the Hudson River, and the old Post Office building in Washington, D.C.), he boasts that he is the person who can "raise the money, solve the endless problems, bring in the right people, and get it done." Trump has indicated that he will put together a fund of over $500 billion through the use of infrastructure bonds but has offered few details on how the money would be spent.
The Democratic strategy is much more straightforward. It provides for a five-year program of spending $250 billion on infrastructure and allocating another $25 billion to a national infrastructure bank, paying for it "through business tax reform." The bank would leverage its funds to support an additional $225 billion in direct loans, loan guarantees, and other credit enhancements for those willing to invest in infrastructure improvements. Theoretically, that could result in total spending of up to $500 billion.
The Democratic plan draws on thoughts and deeds of previous Democratic leaders, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Barack Obama. Presumably, business tax reform will include the Obama plan for a cash infusion in the form of a one-time tax on overseas corporate profits, among other previously floated ideas. Even so, this plan falls far short of the financial mark.
I am not suggesting that even we supply chain wonks will choose the candidate who has the warmest and fuzziest infrastructure plan. But if we were, I'm afraid we would be faced with two unappealing choices: a recycled, inadequately financed idea and a mystery plan.