By Steve Rizer
At such a crucial stage in America’s effort to address its “infrastructure deficit,” with billions of dollars for the construction industry hanging in the balance, every decision on this front becomes paramount. Last week, the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) suggested that one of those important decisions would be how President Obama dealt with the issue during his State of the Union address.
“The State of the Union provides you the perfect opportunity to outline to congressional Republicans and Democrats your plan to work with them to increase public and private investments in our roads, bridges, ports, airports, waterways, and water systems,” AGC Chief Executive Officer Stephen Sandherr wrote in a Jan. 23 letter to Obama, urging him, among other things, to facilitate “workable revenue options to avoid the upcoming insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF).”
Sandherr argued that HTF “is a successful funding mechanism that should be strengthened by increasing revenue to meet current and future transportation needs. Without sustained investment in our surface transportation infrastructure, U.S. businesses will pay an added $430 billion in transportation costs, household incomes will fall by more than $7,000, and our exports will fall by $28 billion by 2020.”
The AGC official emphasized the need for bipartisan solutions to resolve the infrastructure gap, including support for Rep. John Delaney’s (D-Md.) Partnership to Build America bill (H.R. 2084). The legislation, which has 25 Democratic and 25 Republican cosponsors in the House, would create a $50-billion infrastructure fund that could be leveraged to an estimated $750 billion.
But did Obama provide the “outline” that AGC wanted him to deliver during his address?
Well, about 15 minutes into his speech, Obama called for lowering tax rates for businesses that create jobs within the U.S. and to “take the money we save from this transition to tax reform to create jobs rebuilding our roads, upgrading our ports, [and] unclogging our commutes because in today’s global economy, first-class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure. We’ll need Congress to protect more than three million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer. That can happen, but I’ll act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible.” This was the extent to which the president directly addressed infrastructure during the speech, devoting 38 seconds to the topic. Was it enough?