We cannot build a new American economy without a great deal more direct public investment. In fact, America is falling apart: Bridges are collapsing, roads are crumbling, levees are failing, school buildings need repair. Our electric grid is obsolete, our water and sewer systems need upgrades, and our nation’s scientific research—to solve health, energy, and environmental problems—is underfunded. In the coming years, the U.S. cannot successfully compete in the global economy unless we lift our economic infrastructure into the 21st century.
Our government spending should reflect American values and goals. In a recession, we can’t afford to waste hundreds of billions of dollars on bailouts and tax breaks for the rich, or excessive military spending. We need to realign our national priorities, focusing our spending on programs and structures that make our nation stronger—better roads, safer bridges, stronger levees, and modernized schools.
Investments in education and transportation will stimulate our sluggish economy. Well-trained workers and top-notch facilities have always driven the American economy, but struggling schools and crumbling bridges threaten our ability to compete in the global market. Investments such as the G.I. Bill and the Interstate Highway System laid the groundwork for decades of economic expansion. We need similar investments now.
It’s time for change. The Bush Administration and its allies in Congress spent our money badly. It’s time to stop spending on corporate giveaways, tax cuts for the rich, and unnecessary wars. It’s time for Washington to change directions. It’s time to repair what’s broken in America.
The Right is Wrong
Opponents argue that we are wasting money on unnecessary pork-barrel projects. But it was Bush that didn’t have tough fiscal accountability. Lax oversight and corruption lead to tens of billions of dollars lost to corporate bailouts, war profiteers and oil industry titans. Let’s not forget that the 2006 Republican-controlled Congress splurged on pork too, with a record $29 billion in earmarks. After Democrats regained control of Congress the following session, earmarks were cut nearly in half.
Opponents say that the investments in President Obama’s economic stimulus package were wasteful “earmarks.” But in fact, there were none at all. 97 percent of the Obama stimulus was targeted toward good, necessary causes. His plan expanded aid to regular Americans hit hard by trickle-down economics, boosting education, health and social investments for the first time in years.
Opponents argue that progressives favor the same old tax-and-spend policies of the past. But in fact, conservatives spent wildly and have nothing to show for it. Bush squandered the large surplus left by the Clinton Administration—on tax cuts for the rich costing $1.7 trillion, nearly $100 billion annually in corporate subsidies, and the Iraq War estimated to cost America upwards of $3 trillion.
We need to invest in the foundation of a rock-solid America:
- First, we need to invest in our people with high-quality, affordable health care, quality education from pre-K to college, and training opportunities for people displaced in the global economy. Second, we need to pioneer clean energy technology to power the 21st century. Finally, we need to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure by putting people to work building roads, rail, and bridges—spending money in America on investments that stay in America.
- We need to expand our horizons beyond the short-term “pay as you go” mentality that stops long-range investment before it begins. One useful tool is a National Infrastructure and Reinvestment Bank. President Obama and a bipartisan coalition support the creation of such a bank to promote and help finance large-scale projects across the nation.
- By getting our national priorities straight, we can certainly repair what’s broken in America. The solution is simple: End corporate subsidies, sweetheart contracts, and other giveaways; cut off tax breaks for wealthy corporations and individuals; reduce wasteful military spending; and invest in the short term to create growth in the long term.
America’s bridges and roads need repair. Nearly 25 percent of bridges in the U.S.—over 152,000—are “structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.” [Federal Highway Administration] Heavier vehicles such as school buses and delivery trucks are forced to take lengthy detours to use safer bridges. Nearly one in four miles of urban interstate is in only “poor” or “mediocre” condition. [National Transportation Statistics]
America’s levees and waterways have become unreliable. Last year, thousands of homes and millions of acres of crops were destroyed after heavy rains overwhelmed obsolete levees along the Mississippi River. More than 170 levees are at high risk of failing due to poor maintenance; the Army Corps of Engineers cannot confirm or deny this because they have not even made a comprehensive levee inventory. [American Society of Civil Engineers] Over a quarter of the dams overseen by the Corps of Engineers have exceeded the lifespan for which they were designed and need major repairs to ensure their safety. [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers]
America’s schools are falling apart. Although public school enrollment has grown in recent years, investment in school construction and modernization decreased by about 30 percent since 2004. In fact, school construction spending was lower in 2007 than in any year since 1999. [American School and University] The Department of Education found 17 percent of public schools in “unsatisfactory” physical condition; in roughly one-third of all schools, these deficiencies “interfere with the ability of the school to deliver instruction.” [National Center for Education Statistics]
America’s neglected infrastructure puts us at risk for disaster. Two years ago, a bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, killing 13 people and injuring 145 others. [U.S. Department of Transportation] That same year, a steam pipe explosion in Manhattan launched a tow truck 12 feet into the air, killing one and injuring dozens. The blast opened a 40-foot crater and spread toxic asbestos, closing off 40 square blocks for five days. [New York Times] These are small illustrations of the deadly danger of letting our infrastructure go unmaintained. The American Society of Civil Engineers says that $2.2 trillion is needed over a five-year period just to bring America’s infrastructure to a “good” condition. [American Society of Civil Engineers]
President Obama began the effort to repair our infrastructure, but much more investment is needed. Public investments were the highlight of President Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus package, but they were limited to “shovel ready” projects. The legislation actually contains less than $200 billion to fund two years of investments in infrastructure, schools, energy, and science. [Wall Street Journal]
Almost all Americans support a large-scale effort to repair America’s infrastructure. Ninety-one percent are “concerned” about “the condition of America’s roads, clean water facilities, school buildings, and energy infrastructure”; 60 percent are “extremely” or “very” concerned; and 94 percent support “a large-scale national effort to build America’s infrastructure.” Eighty-one percent support—and only 19 percent oppose—“a one percent increase in your federal taxes” to “build America’s future.” [Luntz, Maslansky Poll]
Almost all Americans are concerned about our nation’s infrastructure.
- 91% are “concerned” about “the condition of America’s roads, clean water facilities, school buildings, and energy infrastructure” (60% are “extremely” or “very” concerned)
- 94% support (55% strongly) “a large scale national effort to build America’s infrastructure.”
- 81% support and only 19% oppose “a 1% increase in your federal taxes” to “build America’s future.”
Americans favor spending for infrastructure over tax cuts.
“Which do you think is more effective in stimulating the nation's economy and creating jobs: An economic agenda focused on returning money to taxpayers through tax cuts, or an economic agenda focused on spending for improvements to the country's infrastructure such as roads, bridges and schools?”
- Tax cuts 33% (Democrats 37%, Republicans 50%, Independents 22%)
- Infrastructure 54% (Democrats 55%, Republicans 39%, Independents 61%)
Americans’ top priority is health care, then education, then energy.
- 59% say they would place a higher priority on spending more money to make health care more accessible and affordable than on reducing the budget deficit.
- 58% believe that spending more to improve education ranks as a higher priority than reducing the deficit.
- 49% say that spending on new energy technology is the higher priority, but given that choice 45% say reducing the budget deficit (45%) is more important.
Campaign for America’s Future, “Beyond Recovery: America’s Public Investment Deficit,” Feb. 2009
American Society of Civil Engineers, “2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure”
U.S. Public Interest Research Group, “More and Better Public Transportation”
“The ground opened up beneath a horse stall in Phoenix. An eighty year old sewer line collapsed in St. Cloud. In Tyler, Texas, the sinkhole was caused by crumbling drainage pipes. In San Antonio, ‘big chunks of rocks were falling off into the abyss that used to be a street.’ In Vallejo, California, the pit split an underground gas line (no danger in that). In San José, a water main ruptured beneath a high school (‘the water may appear dirty,’ officials assured residents, ‘but it is safe to drink’). In Sunnyvale, the burst pipe buckled 300 feet of road surface. In Greensboro the sinkhole swallowed a car.” [The Big Con blog]
“When second-grade teacher Susan Seki goes to bed at night and hears rain, she hopes the books in her classroom are dry and that her students won’t have to wear galoshes during class the next day. The Lincoln Elementary School in Burlingame, CA instructor finds it hard to teach vocabulary and arithmetic when the school’s deteriorated roof leaks. Placing buckets around the room — something the school has done twice this school year — does not help the learning environment, either.” [D.C. Examiner, November 23, 2007]