October 31, 2011

Any jobs plan must address nation's critical needs | The Huntington Herald-Dispatch

The prospect of Congress and the White House coming to agreement on a jobs bill that includes spending on infrastructure improvements remains a long shot, but the idea is appealing to many Americans.

In theory, such a plan would make sense— if a way is found to pay for it and if the bankrolled projects indeed aligned with the nation’s critical needs. Not only should public work projects be as close to “shovel-ready” as possible to promote job growth and sustenance quickly, they should also meet criteria for addressing the nation’s most pressing infrastructure problems.

President Barack Obama’s proposed American Jobs Act, unveiled early last month, has several pieces to it, and one is spending $50 billion quickly on highways, transit, rail and aviation. His overall jobs plan, costing a total of $447 billion, already has been blocked by Republicans in the U.S. Senate, and the president has responded by saying he would break it into pieces for consideration by Congress. Some of those “pieces” also have been rejected.

Now Democrats in the Senate, including co-sponsor Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., are promoting a bill that would focus strictly on infrastructure work. Called the Rebuild America Jobs Act, it would spend $50 billion on roads, bridges and air traffic infrastructure and create a $10 billion national “infrastructure bank” to be used for public-private partnerships working on development projects in cities and rural areas.

In promoting the plan in Huntington last week, Manchin underscored his home state’s infrastructure status.

According to Transportation for America, West Virginia ranks No. 8 in the nation for the number of deficient bridges in the state, with 16.7 percent classified as deficient.

The percentage of daily traffic on deficit bridges equal 11.2 percent of the state’s average daily traffic on all bridges. A full 36 percent of West Virginia’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, Manchin said. He also noted that Moody’s Analytics estimates that for every dollar spent on infrastructure, the nation’s economy grows by $1.59.

That suggests that investing in infrastructure not only is a safety issue but a sound way to improve the economy.

The need for infrastructure improvements is illustrated closer to home, too. Huntington, like many cities, is in need of tens of millions of dollars worth of improvements to its antiquated sewer system. But the city, just like many other cities, does not have the money to make a serious dent in accomplishing the upgrades. The federal government, which recently fined the city for not making enough progress on sewer improvements, should instead focus on helping cities pay for these improvements and a public works program would be a way to do that.

Since the Obama administration’s first stimulus program, Republicans have criticized the effectiveness of it and raised questions about whether some of the money went to valid projects. The GOP’s reluctance to spend shouldn’t necessarily rule out the possibility of a new public works program to aid the economy, but it’s important that money for such an initiative be directed toward projects that address the most urgent needs.

By:  Editorial