Earlier this month, Trump spoke fervently about major goals to rebuild our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. It’s clear to us all that America’s roads, highways, bridges, hospitals, government buildings, airports, and sewers are in dire need of repair. Trump touted $200 billion in new spending, and additional incentives for private investment — which really boils down to privatizing American infrastructure.
We’ve seen a decline in infrastructure spending the last several years, and The New York Times reports that “In 34 states, spending on government construction projects was lower last year than in 2007, adjusting for inflation. The trend has continued this year. Public construction spending in June was 9.5 percent lower than during the same month last year.”
As state budgets are cut, projects are halted. So where will this outpouring of money come from? Private investors will step in, with the promise of big tax incentives.
Companies will undoubtedly focus on projects that are the most profitable, keeping labor and supply costs down in the process, rather than on building the infrastructure that is most needed.
Tracy Gordon, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, tells The Atlantic that “Government is in the business of providing. Business does not want to provide.”
The outcome will be that private companies chosen for major projects will not invest in the infrastructure where it’s needed in the vast expanse of “rural America” Trump keeps talking about, like establishing broadband internet. Rural communities don’t generate a solid return on investment for them.
Instead of incentives for our richest companies, the federal government needs to step up to find funds for the game-changing projects in rural areas, as well as real changes in cities.
My organization, LAANE (Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy) has been part of successful efforts in Los Angeles to build infrastructure while providing good jobs for our communities who need them most. The RePower LA campaign, which includes partnerships with IBEW Local 18, Strategic Concepts in Organizing & Policy Education (SCOPE), and other community and environmental organizations, advocates for equitable clean energy investment and good jobs at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
Our coalition has expanded solar and energy efficiency for Los Angeles, including upgrading existing lighting and power sources for homeowners throughout the city. We promote a union pre-apprenticeship program that recruits women and communities of color, including the re-entry population, to learn electrical and water utility skills and get on the path to a career at the DWP. This work is being done to benefit folks with barriers to employment, while also improving our city’s water and power infrastructure.
LAANE is also working with a new coalition, Our Water LA, to find better ways to capture LA County stormwater. We want to advance water resilience and make sure that water conservation jobs are good, union jobs that support local families.
On the national front, our affiliate, the Partnership for Working Families (PWF), supports similar projects in major cities across the country. As PWF Executive Director Nikki Fortunato Bas says, “We must remember that infrastructure investment is a justice issue that will either move us toward greater racial, environmental, economic and gender equity or further from it.”
There are many of us who recognize the value of better streets, transportation, and upkeep of our aging systems — so much so that we are willing to tax ourselves to fund these crucial projects. As Donald Cohen, Executive Director of In the Public Interest, points out, tax increases tied to building projects are gaining traction in major cities, including Los Angeles.
“In November , over 70 percent of Los Angeles voters approved increasing a sales tax to raise $120 billion for expanding mass transit and improving highways. Like all infrastructure investment, the new spending will help boost the regional economy. But Los Angeles will go even further: construction jobs will be targeted for workers from high-poverty ZIP codes and apprenticeship programs, and the recently incarcerated.”
This comprehensive approach takes into account the importance of good jobs and local input on plans for maintenance and new projects, and this is critical to our country’s next phase of strong infrastructure. The last thing we need is a handful of corporations making these decisions for us, and contracts with low road employers that decrease the possibility of strong, family-sustaining jobs for more Americans.