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Lost taxes could fund infrastructure

In one of Carl Sandburg’s “Early Moon” poems for children, he has the bridge in Potomac Town say: “Come across, try me; see how good I am.”
Two generations later, the bridge might give a “stay-away” warning. Aging, subjected to high traffic and wear, inadequately maintained due to shortage of funds, it may be unsafe and crumbling.
An Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia in May killing eight people and injuring more than 200. New safety-system technology that would automatically slow down speeding trains could have prevented the derailment. Yet the administration’s request for funding for it had been “ignored” by Congress, per the New York Times.
With comments such as the nation’s infrastructure condition being “behind countries like Malaysia” and getting worse, some political leaders are acknowledging the effects of decades of underinvestment in these essential, public works assets.
Though millions more Americans depend on products and services from the system — clean drinking water and sanitation, the schools, public parks and others — spending has been slashed by Congress to the lowest levels since the post-WWII era.
In the latest assessment of quality and soundness of the national infrastructure by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the rail system and bridges were actually among the highest performing of 16 areas. Their C+ rating compares to Ds for drinking water, hazardous waste cleanup, and stormwater and wastewater systems, among others.
Overall, ASCE showed our assets to be just one grade above failure, one step from the point “when everyday things simply stop working the way people expect them to,” as The Washington Post noted.
It estimated at $3.6 trillion the cost for modernizing the systems and restoring them to good order. At the current rate of spending, however, funding would fall short by $1.6 trillion.
There will be much debate on sources for the needed funds. For the highways and transportation portion, Sen. Bob Corker is suggesting a national gas tax hike, as does Gov. Bill Haslam for Tennessee. In his June newsletter, Congressman Phil Roe suggests that oil and gas production on the federal public lands be increased for royalties that could potentially be applied toward the highways funding.
Yet, of the federally owned lands known to contain oil, 70 percent are already approved for exploration and leased for this purpose to energy firms.
Americans favoring protection of the public lands for future generations over drilling, may prefer a different, tax-fairness approach such as the Institute for Policy Studies and the Center for Effective Government proposed in April.
Their study, “Burning our Bridges,” shows that 26 of many large U.S. corporations, even while relying on our ports, roads, waterways and other infrastructure for success, annually withhold some 90 billions from the Treasury through shifting their earnings offshore.
The lost taxes could fund all unmet maintenance needs in local, state and national parks, cover the cost of repairing all of the country’s wastewater and stormwater systems, and make our bridges and much other infrastructure “good” again for the nation’s children and all people and businesses to enjoy safely.