The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, June 03, 2011

A conservative approach to more infrastructure spending? Hey, whatever

By The Building Tradesman



“No new taxes.”

If there was ever a way to summarize the underlying theme of today’s Republican Party, that’s as close as you’re going to get.

But that theme also applies to higher gasoline taxes or fees that might be used to improve roads, bridges, sewers and other infrastructure in Michigan and across the U.S. And any significant infrastructure improvements – as well as the construction employment that will go along with them – are only going to happen if Republican lawmakers bend a little on their ideology and free up money to make that work happen.

The Associated General Contractors – a group with strong ties to Republicans – made such a pitch to free up infrastructure money by making an appeal aimed at their conservative friends. The report, issued May 23, is called The Conservative Case for Infrastructure and Reform. The report embraces conservative ideals in calling for new funding for infrastructure.

The AGC even acknowledged their friends in the Tea Party, by providing a constitutional case for spending on infrastructure.

“There’s no doubt investing in infrastructure is in the national interest,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the AGC’s chief executive officer. “But the fact is our federal infrastructure programs have become so unfocused and ineffective that public support for funding them has declined precipitously.” We didn’t know there was a conservative approach and a liberal approach to infrastructure, but indeed there is, according to the AGC.

The AGC recommends:

  • Eliminating programs that are not in the federal interest. That would include things like protecting covered bridges and building bike lanes, “that aren’t in the federal interest and giving state and local officials more flexibility.”
  • Giving state and local officials more flexibility.
  • Streamlining federal environment review process and setting timelines on anti-infrastructure lawsuits.
  • Encouraging greater private sector investment in, and operation of, infrastructure.
  • Eliminating the current approach to earmarks.
  • Creating a commission for consolidating federally-owned infrastructure.

The association also is calling for measures to make it easier to encourage private sector investment in infrastructure facilities by eliminating restrictions on tolling highways, establishing public benefit bonds and rewarding states for enacting enabling legislation. In addition, the association identifies ways to encourage greater private sector operation of infrastructure, especially transit systems, as a way to reduce costs and improve services.

The AGC included their report as an advertising special in the ultra-conservative Weekly Standard magazine. The AGC is also briefing their Transportation Construction Coalition about the effort, as well as lobbying members of Congress.

Sandherr said the current approach actually makes it difficult to attract private sector capital, limits state and local flexibility in building infrastructure projects and spends too much money on projects that are not in the national interest.

“Reforming the federal approach to infrastructure is crucial to ensuring America’s continued prosperity and national economic security,” Sandherr said. “In today’s economic environment, allowing vital infrastructure to deteriorate further is tantamount to undermining our national economic security.”

  • Eliminating programs that are not in the federal interest. That would include things like protecting covered bridges and building bike lanes, “that aren’t in the federal interest and giving state and local officials more flexibility.”
  • Giving state and local officials more flexibility.
  • Streamlining federal environment review process and setting timelines on anti-infrastructure lawsuits.
  • Encouraging greater private sector investment in, and operation of, infrastructure.
  • Eliminating the current approach to earmarks.
  • Creating a commission for consolidating federally-owned infrastructure.
The association also is calling for measures to make it easier to encourage private sector investment in infrastructure facilities by eliminating restrictions on tolling highways, establishing public benefit bonds and rewarding states for enacting enabling legislation. In addition, the association identifies ways to encourage greater private sector operation of infrastructure, especially transit systems, as a way to reduce costs and improve services. The AGC included their report as an advertising special in the ultra-conservative Weekly Standard magazine. The AGC is also briefing their Transportation Construction Coalition about the effort, as well as lobbying members of Congress. Sandherr said the current approach actually makes it difficult to attract private sector capital, limits state and local flexibility in building infrastructure projects and spends too much money on projects that are not in the national interest. “Reforming the federal approach to infrastructure is crucial to ensuring America’s continued prosperity and national economic security,” Sandherr said. “In today’s economic environment, allowing vital infrastructure to deteriorate further is tantamount to undermining our national economic security.”