On Wednesday, June 26th the GAIN Coalition took part in a Washington Examiner event hosted at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. The event focused on shortcomings of the current infrastructure system and featured discussions on the advancement of an Infrastructure Bill and the future of American infrastructure. The event comes at a pivotal time for policymakers as they face the failures of the FAST Act and the Highway Trust Fund. Yet at this event, featuring industry experts as well as the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, it appears the fight for extensive infrastructure reform is far from over.
During the program, a panel discussion with Washington Council of Governments’ Hon. Marty Nohe and GAIN Strategic Advisor Brigham McCown addressed the many complexities of determining what an infrastructure bill should entail. McCown explained, “Different jurisdictions have different requirements.” In order to make sustainable improvements to American infrastructure, McCown added these differences must be dealt with, as there “is a huge divide between urban and suburban and rural.”
While policymakers may agree that infrastructure is a bipartisan concern, McCown addressed the challenges of passing infrastructure reform at its core is full of partisan attitudes. According to McCown, “The issue has always been how are we going to pay for it and what’s the federal role versus what’s the state or local role.” In support of reducing the role of the federal government, McCown said, “Level that playing field, let everybody know what the rules are and then get out of the way.”
Funding is always a major point of contention in infrastructure debates. During the program, Tim Chapman, Executive Director of Heritage Action, stated that 75 to 78 percent of infrastructure money is raised and spent at the local level. In reference to this statistic, McCown expressed that he would like to increase that number to 85 percent, so that state and local governments shoulder even more of the funding burden. “We do need to move toward a user fee based system instead of a subsidized system because we are losing a lot of efficiency,” he argued. As McCown puts it, “If it’s not sustainable, it’s costing us money.” Replacing current funding mechanisms with a user fee based system frees taxpayers from shouldering unnecessary burdens and helps set spending priorities for infrastructure improvements as determined by usage and demand.
At the end of the discussion, McCown urged for greater involvement from the private sector, encouraging public-private partnerships. He pointed out that at a time where the question of funding is paramount to moving forward with effective legislation, the lack of a stable and consistent regulatory environment for investment averts the private sector’s involvement. Secretary Chao echoed this sentiment, “[But] there are other ways to finance our public infrastructure, and that is through allowing the private sector to come in.” While there may be no need for debate over the necessity of reform, policymakers must make the right commitments and the right investments in order to pass effective legislation.
To view a full video of the event, click here.