A Nation Of Builders

Traffic cones and sign on city street
Traffic cones and sign on city street

Co-authored by:
• Leo Hindery, Jr., Co-chair of the Task Force on Jobs Creation
• Rick Sloan, Union of Unemployed
• Michael R. Wessel, Liaison to the USTR/DOL Labor Advisory Committee

In the midst of this election season, we have heard presidential candidates address a host of issues -- from the economy to healthcare to safety and security. As we prepare to elect the next President of the United States and we think about our democracy, it is critical that we do not forget our nation's builders, the men and women who fought a revolution so that we could be citizens who determine our own destinies.

Our founders who forged compromises in Philadelphia that produced our Constitution and made certain that the new Congress delivered on the promises of a Bill of Rights. And those whose toil built a transcontinental nation of 323 million women, men and children who proudly call ourselves Americans.

But to continue to "secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity" we must continually strengthen the ties that bind us together as a nation. And especially in this national election year, with the challenges ahead and the deep economic divides that still exist in the country, we must not let so-called "hard-edge nationalism" divide us by political party or by race, religion or region.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal shows that while Wall Street is pushing for large infrastructure projects, local governments, public officials, and voters are hesitant to say yes. With a decrease in government borrowing for new projects and a cut in construction projects all together, our infrastructure is continuing to fall behind. There is ahead of us as citizens -- not as Republicans or as Democrats, but as citizens -- a unique opportunity to solidly remain a vibrant nation of builders, which is to no longer abdicate our responsibility to replace, rebuild and reimagine the infrastructure required for inclusive prosperity across our nation.

After decades of under-investing, America, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, now faces a $3.3 trillion dollar infrastructure deficit over the next ten years that is impeding economic growth, undermining the economy's efficiency, adding to real unemployment, and increasing the country's trade deficit, especially in manufactured goods.

This decay -- mostly in surface transportation, electric transmission, airports, and water and wastewater facilities -- will, if not addressed, cost the U.S. economy trillion of dollars in lost domestic product.

What we need in response is a multi-trillion-dollar, multi-year program of infrastructure investment -- with its massive multiplier effects both during the construction phase of an infrastructure project and later during operations and maintenance. Only a new large-scale national infrastructure bank -- what we and others suggest be called "America's Infrastructure Bank" -- can, in partnership with the states and our municipalities, finance the massive needs we face in every corner of our country.

We propose that this bank be established in law as a wholly-owned government corporation with a nonpartisan Board of Directors appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. To make the bank as responsive as possible to regional infrastructure development needs, and thus most effective, the bank should be "regionalized" into several regional operating districts, similar to the Federal Reserve.

America's Infrastructure Bank would make direct loans to and guarantees of private sector loans for infrastructure projects.

With the consent of Treasury, the bank would sell or issue general purpose bonds backed by the full faith and credit of the federal government; sell specific project bonds when necessary; and invite private capital investment in the form of loans. This capital structure would give the bank the lowest possible 'cost of capital' and thus help keep associated user-fees and tolls as low as possible.

All infrastructure projects initiated under the bank should require that major associated purchases be "Made in America". In order to qualify as being Made in America at least 90 percent of the content would have to be actually manufactured -- not just assembled and/or transformed -- within America's borders.

Consistent with the abiding goal of ensuring good jobs for American workers while transforming the nation's infrastructure, the bank also should require that all associated work by constructors and suppliers alike be covered by appropriate labor laws, including, especially, prevailing wage laws and the Davis-Bacon Act.

If we are to continue to celebrate the absolute power of a free people to forge an American dream for their families; and if we are to stay a nation of builders, then we need to take on the hard work of strengthening these infrastructure ties that bind us together -- our roads and bridges; our railroads, airports and seaports; and our electrical grid and water treatment plants.

Co- Authors

Leo Hindery, Jr., Co-chair of the Task Force on Jobs Creation, founder of Jobs First 2012, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations; former CEO of AT&T Broadband and its predecessors, Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) and Liberty Media

Rick Sloan, Former Communications Director of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and now leads the Union of Unemployed

Michael Wessel, Commissioner, U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission and Liaison to the USTR/DOL Labor Advisory Committee