Welcome back to work. If you are like most Americans,
And chances are, as this was one of the biggest travel weekends of the year, the state of the nation's roads, bridges and airports did not go unnoticed. They are, to put it mildly, in failing condition and getting worse. According to the most recent grade given by the American Society of Civil Engineers, it's a D-plus for infrastructure out there.
In Washington state last week, an Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River collapsed, apparently after an oversized truck hit it. But the structure was also rated as structurally deficient, a 5 out of 9 by state safety inspectors, and was obsolete and vulnerable. Nationwide, there are thousands of bridges with similar ratings.
Highways are in similar straits, with 42 percent of urban roads now classified as congested, leaving drivers with long, pothole-strewn daily commutes. That costs Americans an estimated $101 billion in wasted time and fuel annually. The long-term price paid in lost sales, productivity and jobs could be far greater. And in Baltimore, don't get people started on the condition of the city's water system and the high cost of repairs.
The problem is that U.S. funding for transportation and other types of infrastructure has not kept pace with inflation or the country's needs. This is not a new phenomenon, but it is an increasingly threatening one. This year, Maryland raised its gasoline tax for the first time in more than 20 years to help address the transportation problem on the state level. Other states have taken similar action recently to boost their highway and transit funding levels as well.
But that surely won't be enough if the federal government abdicates its historic role in financing transportation and other public works projects. The federal Highway Trust Fund remains in danger of going broke this year, chiefly because
Make no mistake, the federal government's 18.4-cents-per-gallon motor fuel tax isn't likely to be increased any time soon. House
But there are some alternatives worth exploring. One particularly promising idea came to light last week from an unlikely source — Maryland's newest congressman, freshman Rep.
But here's the rub. Those 50-year bonds with a 1 percent interest rate wouldn't be guaranteed by the federal government but by private companies looking to repatriate overseas holdings. Remember Apple CEO
Mr. Delaney's Partnership to Build America Act would set up an auction in which U.S. corporations would bid down the price to repatriate their funds. If, for instance, the winning bid was a 4-to-1 ratio, a company like Apple would have to purchase $1 in bonds for every $4 repatriated — the equivalent of an 8 percent tax rate.
Obviously, the whole of the nation's unmet infrastructure needs (estimated by the civil engineers' society at $3.6 trillion) can't be financed this way, but it would certainly be helpful. Already, Mr. Delaney has attracted both Republican and Democratic co-sponsors. That shouldn't come as too great a shock since Republican leaders and President