We can’t keep ignoring the need to invest in transportation infrastructure
By Saba Long
Lately, I’ve been watching Aaron Sorkin’s latest TV series The Newsroom. In true Sorkin fashion it’s rife with overly emotional characters spitting out $10-words and plenty of snark.
In a recent episode, an official from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) goes on TV to declare the impending death of humanity due to global warming.
When the fictional news anchor Will McAvoy asks how to rectify the situation, the agency head casually remarks, “We should have turned the cars off 20 years ago.”
In the real world, outside of climate change, there’s a different grave issue we keep ignoring – transportation infrastructure.
Our public transit, roads and bridges have all come short in the transportation funding equation. As Sunday’s “60 Minutes” special highlighted, this is a national problem with grave consequences.
On Capitol Hill, and here at the state capitol, some bold action is long overdue.
Interviewed by Steve Kroft, former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, “Politicians in Washington don’t have the political courage to say, ‘This is what we have to do.’ That’s what it takes… They don’t want to spend the money. They don’t want to raise the taxes. They don’t really have a vision of America the way that other Congresses have had a vision of America.”
For starters, allow reduced taxes for U.S. multinational corporations to repatriate their foreign profits and bring those dollars back to the American economy. Any taxes collected on repatriated funds would go towards funding a national infrastructure bank.
Worried about “big government?” Implement the fund for a finite period of time, say 10 years. There is no shortage of “shovel ready” transportation projects waiting for a federal funding match.
This could be a net benefit to the public and private sectors – safer road conditions for truck drivers, improved bridges for freight and faster commutes.
According to the World Economic Forum, countries can expect a long-term gain of 5 cents to 25 cents on annual gross domestic product (GDP) for every dollar spent on public infrastructure.
While the national unemployment rate is declining, it’s trending higher in states reluctant to invest in infrastructure spending.
So, why not implement a transportation lockbox to ensure Georgia’s “fourth penny” only funds transportation projects rather than getting lost in the general fund?
The beauty of the fourth penny is that the revenue would not be restricted by the Georgia Constitution to just roads and bridges. It could be invested in public transit and alternative transportation projects, which means we could actually have a Georgia Department of Transportation rather than just a Highway Department.
WorldPay US, a payment processing company, recently announced its move from the Sandy Springs suburb to intown Atlanta.
On Nov. 20, Invest Atlanta – the city’s development arm – approved its financial support for a number of downtown projects, including the long-awaited Post Properties development near Centennial Olympic Park. And, as I look out the window, red construction cranes tower over the new stadium project.
Atlanta is attracting quality jobs and more residents, in large part due to its public transportation network, although it has received little investment over the past decade. MARTA’s Red Line expansion to Dunwoody was completed in 1998, with North Springs service beginning in 2000.
With the Atlanta Streetcar set to open any day now, it has revitalized the Edgewood corridor, cleaned up pockets of concern and has created successful hospitality entrepreneurs like Grant Henry and the group behind SoundTable.
In a few months, Atlanta voters will have the opportunity to approve a bond referendum to fund long-overdue road transportation projects, including critical bridge repairs.
Clearly, Atlanta and Georgia politicians cannot afford to keep waiting on the U.S. Congress to act when they keep hitting snooze on the alarm.