By Matthew Cameron
Yesterday’s jobs report has prompted another round of existential questioning among politicians and political pundits about how to address the nation’s employment situation. A straightforward answer would seem to entail identifying a few particularly hard-hit sectors of the economy and adjusting federal policies that affect those sectors in a way that boosts employment. But Republicans in Congress are proposing a 35 percent cut to transportation funding in their six-year infrastructure bill, meaning there will be even less demand for construction workers at a time when the sector’s unemployment rate remains 15.6 percent. Here’s the Center for American Progress’s Donna Cooper with the gory details:
Rep. John Mica (R-FL), chairman of the House Transportation Committee, proposes spending $230 billion on transportation over the next six years. That sounds like a lot, but it’s less than the five-year transportation spending plan passed in 2005 when George W. Bush was president — and nearly $6 billion less than this year’s investment in surface transportation, which is already 50 percent less than needed. [...]
[Mica's bill] doesn’t call for a national infrastructure bank, despite evidence from Europe, Canada, and Asia that a superstructure like that enables wiser public and private infrastructure investments. While Republican leaders crow about ending waste in government, Mica’s legislation fails to end politicized allocation formulas that impede delivery of funds where they are most needed. And he doesn’t call for the revival of taxable federally subsidized bonds like Build America Bonds, which successfully attracted more than $55 billion in private investment in new state and local rebuilding projects at a very low cost of $566 million to the U.S. Treasury.
Transportation is an area where the government has tremendous potential to make a positive impact. Unlike other sectors such as retail or leisure and hospitality, hiring for infrastructure projects is directly influenced by government policy. After all, individual consumers don’t pay construction companies to build new roads; governments do that. So if the U.S. wants better transportation infrastructure (it does) and fewer unemployed construction workers (it does), the government can simply hire more firms to complete more projects. For whatever reason, the House GOP has decided it wants to do the opposite.