I recently heard the President and CEO of the Illinois Road and Transportation Builders speak. As an organization promoting transportation infrastructure, it finds itself in interesting times.
In the good old days, infrastructure fuel taxes could be sold to voters and legislatures as a user fee, and not really at tax, since you only paid when you used it. Now it seen by many, primarily those in the Republican Party, as just another tax to keep big government big. There is even opposition among those who oppose infrastructure taxes to the alternative tolling highways since this infrastructure so it should be free for use. Yes, there are logical inconsistencies to that position.
In Illinois things are more confused with on going dire state and local budget problems. In the next couple months, a 2016 budget is be developed. One outcome might be for legislative negotiations between the Democrats controlling the legislature and the Republican governor is that a compromise will be reached for some increased “user” taxes to pay the cost of infrastructure.
Infrastructure opponents have been somewhat successful in making the case that transportation infrastructure is just another big government spending waste. Those of us who think maintaining and modernizing transportation structure need to make the case that future economic health requires to invest in our country. More effort to clarify this vision is needed and yes, it needs to be marketed. To often politicians incorrectly highlight as first benefit putting people to work, which is why the opponents infrastructure seem to be winning the battle.
There is a role in government to invest in what the private sector could not justify because of the long time frame for payment. Two cases in point. The interstate highway program cost billions, but it lead to a creation millions of jobs and billions in profits and taxes to the country over a 30 year time span while the system was being built. More recently the Port of Miami, a public agency, has invested in dredging a 50 foot channel to keep in competitive in the larger mega-ship container ocean vessel era. It will start seeing these benefits when the expanded Panama Canal project opens next year, but work was done several years in advance of the canal opening. Yes there is risk, but without some risk there is no potential for reward.