Lawmakers and a panel of experts met during a congressional hearing on Wednesday to discuss solutions to fix the national infrastructure — something that urgently needs to be done.
Congress has discussed the need to overhaul the national infrastructure system for years, yet done little.
There are roads, bridges, dams, water systems, electrical and airports that have fallen into disrepair over the decades. The House Ways and Means Committee hosted a hearing as part of its continued efforts to find a legislative solution to the issue.
The committee heard from two panels; the first consisted of congressional committee leaders who have also worked on the issue, such as House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (shown above right).
The second panel included experts from business and labor.
“The bottom line is we need investment,” said DeFazio. “If you look at federal spending, we haven’t increased the gas tax since 1993, basically we have cut federal spending by 20 percent in real terms. The highway trust fund is running a $60 billion a year deficit in terms of the current revenues. We’re borrowing $60 billion a year to backfill the highway trust fund. And that’s still not an adequate investment.”
There’s been wide bipartisan support for updating and fixing America’s infrastructure, despite a lack of a more comprehensive solution. President Donald Trump has even proposed a $1.5 trillion project to update and fix the national infrastructure and create jobs.
He’s also encouraged lawmakers to send him a clean bill with a solution.
“I think we have a real opportunity to address the vital question which is improving our infrastructure, creating jobs and strengthening the economy,” said Sam Graves (R-Mo.), ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure committee. “I think there is widespread agreement within the House, within the Senate and [within the] White House that we do need to act. We saw the president urge Congress to send him bipartisan infrastructure legislation that he can sign into law. And more importantly, most of our constituents want this as well.”
Competitive Enterprise Institute senior fellow Marc Scribner warned that just throwing more money at the issue is a misguided approach.
He used his testimony to highlight alternative approaches to the status quo that are aimed at more efficiently targeting infrastructure investments and how to increase the returns on those investments.
“In recent years, there have been increasing calls to raise federal fuel excise tax rates in order to address what many have called an infrastructure crisis,” Scribner said. “There are very real infrastructure needs in the United States, but they are not uniform across infrastructure asset classes and are not primarily the result of a lack of federal funding. A more targeted approach is needed to best address these challenges.”
“Deferring routine maintenance not only leads to lower quality infrastructure but increases the future costs of restoring infrastructure to a state of good repair.”
A better approach, said Scribner, would involve reassessing the federal role in the provision of transportation infrastructure, examining alternatives to existing user taxes, and removing government barriers to investment.
He also noted investments should be targeted to the areas they are needed most, such as cities.
“The failure of state and local governments to carry out routine maintenance following initial construction has also led to the decay of airports, urban surface streets, and water and wastewater networks,” Scribner said. “Deferring routine maintenance not only leads to lower quality infrastructure but increases the future costs of restoring infrastructure to a state of good repair.”
The American Society of Civil Engineers released a report in 2017, which gave the infrastructure system a D+ rating. The report also warned that the system needs $4.6 trillion in funding before it is back in good shape.
But that would be more than what the entire federal government spends in a year.
The U.S. Department of Transportation found in a report last year that there is a $90 billion backlog in transit repair needs.
“Let me start by saying it is an honor to be here today,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on Wednesday. “While an honor, it also is quite frustrating. Despite widespread calls to act from business [and] labor, the people rely on our infrastructure every single day. After all of the studies and reports outlining this urgent crisis, no meaningful action has been taken to put us on a course to correct decades of chronic underinvestment.”
The White House also sees the infrastructure plan as a potential jobs stimulus program.
Construction and other workers will be needed for those projects — which could help these people build their careers by gaining more experience and an improved skill set.
Several national stories in recent years have highlighted severe infrastructure problems across the country.
Train derailments, bridge collapses, and other issues have attracted national attention. Among them, the city of Flint, Michigan, made headlines when its drinking water became contaminated with lead from aging pipes.
And check out this video: