Congressional leaders must start with infrastructure in 2019

Editor’s note: The opinions and views expressed in the association’s commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Lee Newspapers Inc. and RockRoadRecycle.

by Dennis Slater, AEM president (Dec. 13, 2018)

During this year’s midterm elections, there were a lot of issues debated and promises made.

Post-election polls widely show the top issues that were on voters’ minds were healthcare and the overall state of our economy. In addition, surveys also consistently showed that six out of 10 Americans believe the U.S. is headed in the wrong direction.

However, another somewhat less widely reported issue also on voters’ minds was infrastructure. Ranging from roads, highways and bridges, to rural broadband, waters systems, airports, railways and more, voters want to know how we are going to not just maintain our infrastructure’s vitality but modernize it so that our nation stays strong throughout the rest of this century. All of which has a direct impact on both our health and our economy.

Before election night, the Brookings Institution reported on how infrastructure had become a “central figure of debates throughout a heated campaign season” by 64 of the 73 candidates running for governor. Some gubernatorial candidates’ campaign promises were pretty emphatic about it, too.

For example, Michigan Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer succinctly pledged to “Fix the Damn Roads” as part of her campaign platform. While Illinois Governor-elect J.B. Prtizker pledged to push for infrastructure upgrades because “quality infrastructure attracts new businesses to our state, keeps existing businesses here, and allows all of our businesses  —  from family farmers to manufacturers  —  to thrive.”

And whereas many issues are simply too partisan to generate lasting momentum, infrastructure seemingly happens to be one of the few things both Democratic Congressional leaders and President Trump believe they can work together on.

In fact, within hours after election results came in, U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (CA-12) said, “Democrats pledge a Congress that works for the people… [and] raise workers’ wages with strong economic growth by rebuilding the infrastructure of America.” President Trump agreed several hours later: “[W]e have a lot of things in common in infrastructure.”

That should sound familiar. We heard this in 2016 during the presidential campaign, and after election night a similar consensus seemed to be building. Many credited President Trump for being the first to jump on the infrastructure bandwagon, culminating in a $1.5 trillion dollar proposal released earlier this year in which the White House says it “will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways and waterways all across our land. And we will do it with American heart, and American hands, and American grit.”

But nothing significant ever materialized. It was sidelined for other pressing priorities such as trade policy, immigration and the election cycle.

In January, Washington lawmakers will have another chance to start with infrastructure. I know that’s something our industry’s 1.3 million men and women who build the equipment our nation needs to help build our infrastructure would be thankful for.

In addition to their jobs, and the creation of many more, by reclaiming our infrastructure advantage we will ensure the safe and efficient movement of people and goods, connectivity between and within rural and urban America, as well as strong economic growth and job creation.

Without it, our country risks losing tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity if Republicans and Democrats don’t work together.

For example, we issued a report last year, “The U.S. Infrastructure Advantage (TM),” which found the U.S. is currently investing half of what it spent on transportation infrastructure more than 50 years ago. Over time if the investment gap continues to grow, the economy is expected to lose almost $4 trillion in gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025, resulting in a loss of 2.5 million jobs.

That’s something our economy cannot afford.

This is a pivotal moment for our nation. There’s no better time than now to focus on infrastructure. American voters are expecting it, and now Washington has the important task of following through.

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