Monday, October 4, 2010

A different kind of structural deficit

With Republicans and the Tea Party clamoring to cut discretionary government spending, it's important to remember that the country has many grossly underfunded needs, the transportation infrastructure being only one.
The United States is saddled with a rapidly decaying and woefully underfunded transportation system that will undermine its status in the global economy unless Congress and the public embrace innovative reforms, a bipartisan panel of experts concludes in a report released Monday.

...Co-chaired by two former secretaries of transportation - Norman Y. Mineta and Samuel Skinner - the group estimated that an additional $134 billion to $262 billion must be spent per year through 2035 to rebuild and improve roads, rail systems and air transportation.
Investing more money is a critical part of the solution, but it's only one part. The bipartisan panel recommends the following:
  1. Stop the bleeding: Congress must address the immediate crisis in transportation funding.
  2. Beyond the gas tax: Innovative thinking is needed to develop the next generation of user fees. Specifically, future funding mechanisms should not depend primarily on fossil-fuel consumption—which the government is actively seeking to discourage through a number of other policies—to keep up with transportation investment needs.
  3. Jobs for the future, not just today: Future stimulus spending should be directed to those transportation projects that will deliver the greatest returns in terms of future U.S. competitiveness, economic growth, and jobs. Building a foundation for sustained prosperity and long-term job creation is more important than boosting short-term employment in road construction.
  4. Pass the power, please: Clarify decision-making power and enhance the effectiveness of states, localities, and metropolitan planning organizations.
  5. Adopt a capital budget: The federal government should adopt accounting methods that (A) recognize expenditures on transportation infrastructure as investments (rather than consumption) and (B) take into account future returns on those investments.
  6. Connect the dots: Adopt an integrated approach to transportation planning that includes freight and goods movement and stresses intermodal connectivity.
  7. Getting Americans home in time for dinner: Find more effective ways of reducing urban congestion.
  8. It’s all about leverage: Encourage public-private partnerships while also improving oversight of such partnerships.
  9. Deliver transportation investments on time: Reform project planning, review, and permitting processes to speed actual implementation.
  10. Build a foundation for informed policy: Better and more timely data are essential to measure progress toward defined goals and objectives and to improve the performance of the nation’s transportation systems.
A return to fiscal sanity requires that the country realistically assess and prioritize its needs and then come up with ways to fund those needs. Republicans' and Tea Partiers' denial of these problems doesn't mean that that they go away.