Let's say you wanted to do something to create a lot of well-paying jobs across the United States; certainly, that's something that President Donald Trump has talked about.
It's also something that Trump and Republicans have said will occur in the wake of their tax reform bill, as corporations invest some of their tax savings into new and improved factories and hire more people.
And, sure, that could happen. Time will tell.
But U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, the Democrat who represents Oregon's Fourth Congressional District, thinks he has a more direct way to create jobs: invest in efforts to rebuild the country's crumbling infrastructure.
To that end, DeFazio plans to once again push three proposals that would potentially generate billions of dollars for infrastructure projects around the country. These are measures, he told us this week, that have attracted at least a measure of bipartisan support, even from some very conservative members of Congress.
DeFazio said the idea of a major national initiative to fix infrastructure has some proponents in the Trump administration — but, he said, the administration also includes people who would prefer that big chunks of the work be privatized. DeFazio said that it should become clear over the next few weeks which view is gaining a foothold in the administration, but he argued that private businesses are unlikely to tackle much work in the rural parts of the country simply because the margin is too small.
In any event, DeFazio said his three proposals come with funding mechanisms already in place, so they wouldn't create any new federal debt — unlike the tax bill.
Here are the three proposals:
• A plan to unlock the federal Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund could provide more than $18 billion over the next decade to pay for work at the nation's harbors. The trust fund comes from a harbor maintenance tax levied on importers and domestic shippers on the value of imported cargo. The money is deposited in a trust fund, which now has $9 billion. But, DeFazio said, the money isn't spent for its intended purpose, harbor maintenance; instead, he said, it sits in the trust fund, where it's used to offset the size of the federal deficit.
• Another proposal would remove a cap on the passenger facility charge, a per-passenger fee that airports can choose to collect. The money can be used to help pay for projects to improve airports. The fee is currently capped at $4.50, but Congress hasn't increased it since 2000. DeFazio said increasing the fee by a buck or two would generate billions to help modernize airports. Airlines have complained that even a modest increase in the charge would discourage travelers from flying, but DeFazio notes that such fears haven't stopped those companies from imposing fees for checking bags.
• The so-called "Penny for Progress Act" would index federal gasoline and diesel taxes to the costs of construction transportation projects and reduced motor fuel usage; estimates are that such an index would increase the federal taxes by about 1 cent per gallon. (Any increase would be capped at 1.5 cents under the proposal.) The money would be used to issue bonds that would help pay for some of the infrastructure work needed across the nation.
Regardless of what you think of these specific proposals (and they have in the past faced an uphill struggle in the GOP-dominated House), there's little doubt about the need to refurbish the country's aging infrastructure: The U.S. Department of Transportation estimated in 2015 that the nation faces an $836 billion backlog of work on highways and bridges. That number hasn't dropped since then.
Maybe DeFazio's three measures will struggle again to get traction in Congress. But the problem they seek to solve isn't going away. Congress and the administration need to give these ideas a fair shake. (mm)