If you are planning to drive somewhere over the 4th of July weekend, you will probably hit road construction on your drive. Back in Chicago when I was younger, we had a saying that there were only two seasons. Winter and Construction. It seemed everytime you wanted to get on a major highway, there was some road construction that snarled traffic.
Bur, we also know that road construction is necessary. In order to keep our infrastructure running, we need to repair and/or replace outdated roads and bridges. Currently there are over 100,000 jobs going on where workers are paving roads and rebuilding bridges and modernizing our transit systems. These projects translate to about 700,000 jobs across the country.
However, if you are also planning to drive somewhere over the Labor Day weekend, you will probably see the exact same road construction you see this weekend. As a matter of fact, if Congress doesn’t do something soon, all road construction could come to a halt by the end of September. The Federal Funds for these projects are running out. Congress knows they are running out. But, as usual, they took a vacation instead of doing something about it.
All of this work is a combination of the Federal Government and the States teaming up to pay for the construction. The Federal Government gives States a very large chunk of the money needed to repair our transportation systems. The Federal Fund is paid for by the 18.7 cents per gallon tax we all pay at the pump. The problem is that with the poor condition of our roads, these costs are rising while the fund remains static. Money is still coming in, but not fast enough. The gas tax hasn’t been raised for over 20 years but the costs for construction have kept going up.
There is a current projected shortfall of about $8 Billion this year. The Administration says that if nothing is done by August 1, an approximate 28% cut of all Federal Funding for these projects will have to be made. If nothing is done by September 1, more and deeper cuts will have to be made. At the end of September, if nothing is done, all money will stop because the government’s authority to spend money on transportation will expire.
As a result, up to 700,000 jobs are in the hands of Congress. With the track record of the House of Representatives, that is a very frightening idea to me.
In fairness, there have been a number of proposals to help fix this problem. The obvious one is to raise the gas tax at the pump. That would ensure more money going into the fund. But, in an election year, that hardly seems to be a likely solution. Especially with the Republicans arguing against every possible rise in taxes of any kind.
The President has offered a solution that would close loopholes in the tax code, and use that money for the transportation fund. The Republicans naturally rejected that idea. I wonder if they had to throw up in the bathroom before taking to the mikes. The Republican solution is, naturally, to cut spending in other programs, like the social safety net, to pay for the road construction. As usual, they want the poor to pay for everything.
One plan even proposed to pay for the increases in transportation by shutting down the mail service on Saturdays. Something Rep. Issa has wanted to do for a long time. Actually he wants the Post Office to go away totally. Republican Senators rejected this idea and it died quickly. A real problem I see with this proposal is that the Post Office doesn’t get any money from the government. It is run like a private company.
There was a plan to raise the tax on large trucks. The thinking goes that large trucks cause a lot of the road damage, so they could pay a bit more. However, because it used the word “tax”, Republicans killed it very quickly.
So, here we sit. 30 days away from the first necessary cuts to Federal Grants to States to make our roads and bridges safer, and Congress is in recess, again! Some claim that this will get solved in time. I am not so sure. I don’t believe it will get solved because the Republicans are adamant against any form of tax increase. They want to cut from social safety nets in order to pay for it. Another reason I don’t think it will get done is because Republicans have proven time-and-again that they don’t care about the jobs of us “little people”. They seem perfectly willing to let 700,000 people lose their jobs. Jobs by the way, that are good paying middle-class jobs.
Both sides of the aisle have to work on this issue. The Democrats have floated several solutions to the problem just to be shut down by the Republicans. Republicans haven’t really offered anything except the shut down Saturday mail service plan. From what I could find in my research on this, not one idea has come from the House Republicans. All of the problem solving is taking place in the Senate.
But then, what is the harm in shutting down transportation construction? It isn’t like we need those 700,000 jobs. It isn’t like we need good roads to get our products to market. It isn’t like we need safe bridges for our citizens to drive across. The worse we allow our infrastructure to get, the more jobs we will lose. Thereby allowing employers to offer $3.00 per hour for labor in order to “attract foreign investment”. Or, as the mantra of the super rich goes, “screw the people, I got mine!”
So, when September and October rolls around and you are still driving on that stripped pavement on the highway, just drop a little thank you note to John Boehner and the Republicans. You will probably have to send it to their district office address. They will probably be on break again.