The COVID-19 pandemic is a wake up call for America to upgrade its infrastructure.
President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi don’t seem to agree on many things, But the COVID-19 pandemic has them both in agreement that now is the time to create legislation to provide much needed infrastructure improvements. The basic physical and organizational structures and facilities needed for the operation of our society, need to be brought up to date or else we face huge problems with basic necessities such as water and electrical power.
With all of these potential issues, there is no disputing that it is much needed. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) pointed out that our existing infrastructure deserves a D+, while a recent report by the World Economic Forum ranked the U.S. 13th in matters of infrastructure, while most of the countries ahead of us have experienced economic issues of their own. For years both parties have proposed various spending bills aimed at correcting our infrastructure problems, but could never agree on how to pay for them.
We need to forget about politics and use this situation for the benefit of the country. If we don’t, multiple potential disasters could be right around the corner. Parts of the United States are experiencing water shortages due to drought. In the meantime, because of the poor condition of pipes used to carry our water, we are losing two trillion gallons of treated water every year. Even scarier, the condition of our hazardous waste sites need to be upgraded and maintained, especially since half of our population lives within three miles of one.
We are also at a constant risk of power failure due to power lines that are decades past their intended life-span, floods because our bridges and levees are old and in poor condition, and with our ever increasing population we are facing gridlock in our bigger cities, because we don’t have enough roads and highways, and much of what we do have is run down.
Trump and Pelosi now agree on the need for a fourth round of stimulus to combat the effects of the coronavirus outbreak on the economy. Both have put the figure at around $2 trillion dollars. It is hoped that putting this money towards the infrastructure will create thousands of new jobs and help reduce the recent surge in unemployment claims and business failures. This will be a good start, but even more needs to be done. According to the ASCE, it would cost $4.5 trillion by 2025 to take care of all of the issues spelled out on their report card.
To the surprise of many, they are even in agreement on how to best finance these projects. Both have cited the opportunity to borrow at historically low interest rates for the funding. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has encouraged Trump and Pelosi to think big when outlining their proposals, understanding that this may be our best opportunity to address many longstanding needs.
Financing has always been the biggest hurdle to gaining bi-partisan support for infrastructure bills. Recent proposals have called for increasing the federal gas tax by $.25 per gallon. With 10 million Americans recently out of work and many small businesses forced to close, now is not a good time to be raising taxes.
There are a couple of issues that may hold up progress on an infrastructure bill. First, many Republicans want to wait to see what effect the first rounds of stimulus have on the economy before adding to the national debt.
The other is a difference in what type of projects should take priority, since Trump wants the bill to focus on revamping roads, bridges and airports, while the Democrats, headed by Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York want to make sure that components that address health care, public housing, water and broadband are included. Some Republicans, particularly Senate Majority Mitch McConnell of Kentucky are accusing Democrats of using COVID-19 as an opportunity to use an infrastructure bill to add in unrelated policy items
This would be a good time for our leaders to stop bickering about their differences and seize this opportunity to do something great for our country. Who knows when the political will on both sides of the aisle will ever again exist to make this happen? We can’t just look at the old ways of doing things. The world is changing rapidly and we need to not only address existing problems, but anticipate future ones as well.
The “Stay at Home” edicts are a perfect example of this. With more people forced to work or school from home, we need to make sure every household in the U.S. has reliable high speed internet access, so everyone has the ability to access the materials they need to be successful. It is important to make sure that we use the lessons learned from this pandemic to make sure that our hospitals and healthcare professionals have what they need to combat future pandemics, which will almost certainly happen again.