Sunday, October 23, 2016

On Infrastructure, Clinton and Trump Find Common Ground

Photo courtesy of Reuters.

In an election year during which it certainly seems there is more that divides us than unites us, it's important to note that there is at least one issue on which the two major party candidates agree: the need to invest more in our infrastructure.

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have spoken of the importance of repairing and maintaining our transportation infrastructure. Clinton has proposed a five-year, $275-billion federal infrastructure program to put Americans to work improving our highways, airports, and maritime ports. $250 billion of that will go to direct public investment, while the remaining $25 billion will prop up a national infrastructure bank to leverage those funds for additional, private funding in the form of direct loans, loan guarantees, and other credit enhancement.

Clinton, her campaign writes, would "fully [pay] for these investments through business tax reform." While this isn't very specific, that might be intentional: Republican leadership in Congress has signaled a willingness to use tax reform to finance more infrastructure spending, and getting too specific on the details now could give them something to say 'no' to before she's even in office. If they agree on principle that our tax code should be reformed, and that corporate tax reform could be used to generate new revenue for our transportation infrastructure programs, then that's a good enough place to start.

Trump, for his part, has said he would "double" Clinton's $275-billion figure and would spend up to $1 trillion on infrastructure. He hasn't in any of his speeches gotten more specific than that - in terms of what exactly the money would be spent on or where he would get it from, given his desire to cut taxes - and in fact I've had trouble finding any specifics on his website, as well. He's written about taxes, trade, and regulation, but not about this.

Which is a bit of a surprise: as a businessman who runs a very large company, he obviously understands the importance of well-maintained infrastructure to keeping our economy running smoothly (which, as a side note, was why I was surprised when former HP CEO Carly Fiorina disagreed on that point during one of the Republican primary debates).

So there's agreement here, but varying levels of specificity. I'm sure it surprises no one that Clinton's plan has more thought behind it, but the very fact that both candidates agree on something is somewhat noteworthy in this political climate.

Business groups aren't leaving anything to chance, though: several groups - including the American Trucking Association, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce - penned a letter to Clinton and Trump urging them to prioritize the long-term sustainability of the Highway Trust Fund. They wrote in part, "We believe that an infrastructure package needs to include, as a foundation, additional sustainable revenue to ensure the permanent solvency of the Highway Trust Fund. The additional revenue sources must be long-term, reliable, dedicated and focused on the users and beneficiaries of our transportation network to support the increased investment provided under your infrastructure proposal."

There is, of course, good reason for Democrats and Republicans alike to come together around the idea of more federal spending on infrastructure: according to the Council of Economic Advisors, each investment of $1 billion in infrastructure leads to the creation of 13,000 jobs, and each dollar invested leads to a return of $1.60 in GDP growth the following year. It's good policy.

And it's popular, too: a recent poll from the Association of Equipment Manufacturers finds that nearly half of Americans think our transportation infrastructure has deteriorated in the past five years, and 70 percent believe investing in its repair will help stimulate the economy.

Regardless of these facts, it is safe to say that our infrastructure problems will continue to plague us in the near-term regardless of the outcome of this election: according to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, spending on infrastructure by states and localities relative to GDP is at a thirty-year low. And despite the obvious urgent need to repair, Congress has repeatedly stiff-armed President Barack Obama in his attempts to pass infrastructure financing legislation.

Perhaps this partisanship will prevail; or, perhaps this election, with two nominees who agree at least on what the problem is, can act as a reset button to get Congress and the White House working together again on this issue.

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