By Joshua Newman
We can only have a conversation about the direction of our country if we’re willing to talk seriously about what we value. Values have traditionally been the purview of the Republican Party, and particularly, conservatives. When compared with liberals, religious conservatives donate to charity in higher numbers, attend church in higher numbers, and seem to focus more explicitly on community than liberals.
It should be no secret that the long-term strength of America depends greatly on those with strong values and a belief in the capability of our people, but we don’t always back that rhetoric up with action. Left, Right, Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street – we’ve been setting our politicians up to fail, because we’re forcing them to listen only to the loudest voices. The way forward is to make the kinds of policy and investment decisions that can secure the brightest future for Americans without hurting ourselves down the road. Let’s get serious; we need compromise and innovative thinking, because our challenges will require the combined firepower of business, society, and government.
We’ll take one example that is critically important across the country, but there are numerous others. Transportation spending is important because it relates to land use decisions, development, business, energy, water delivery, wastewater treatment, and national security. Here’s why Conservatives, Liberals, and everyone in between should pay attention: transportation is about getting people to their business and leisure activities quickly and safely. Even more fundamentally, the health of America’s transportation networks should be a national security priority.
It is increasingly apparent that America will suffer competitive losses in the global marketplace if we do not address our aging transportation infrastructure. The private sector can’t address this problem alone – government can and should provide much-needed financing, as well as coordination across county and state lines.
The way things are now, local and state governments compete for federal resources and to convince businesses to locate in their jurisdictions. Competition is good, because it often promotes efficiency in service delivery, but too much of anything can lead to problems elsewhere. For example, many of our highways are in a shocking state of disrepair, and in order to maintain, at best, a slow rate of decline, some estimate that we’ll need nearly $12 billion in additional annual investments in highways alone. If we actually want to enhance these and other systems, another $50 billion annually could be justified. If that sounds absurd, think again, and that statistic does not even include investments needed to maintain and modernize other infrastructure elements, such as the electrical grid, train systems, and other critical components of the American economy.
In fact, for many years we have been underinvesting in transportation infrastructure of all types – roads, rail, buses, and bicycle. Although car ownership and fuel are still relatively cheap in America, compared with other countries, Americans still spend more per year on fuel. With the price of oil rising, and lingering questions about the health effects of natural gas drilling, we would be wise to increase investment in forms of energy production that reduce our dependence on dangerous fuel sources. The US Military is already doing it, and with coordinated efforts from business and government, we can pull ourselves out of these cycles.
If it’s true that we value community and keeping America as strong as possible long into the future, then we have to be willing to talk across the aisle. We can’t expect any of this to happen if our politicians are pitting business and government against each other. We have to ask our elected officials to do what is best for America, by demanding that they draw up multi-modal transportation investment plans that get more of us where we need to go quickly and with better economic efficiency. Let’s be clear, America does need your help, but all you have to do is pay attention when your elected officials talk about transportation. Ask them to vote for bills that are friendly to multiple transportation types, because we need them to keep America strong and competitive. If we really want politicians to stop wasting so much time dragging each other through the mud, let’s give them something they can work together to build.
Image: Courtesy of Missouri Communication