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With tax reform finally signed into law, it’s time for Washington to tackle the next big item on America’s to-do list: the large-scale modernization of our infrastructure.
The American business community is a major stakeholder in this debate. Businesses of all sizes rely on infrastructure to ship products, transport workers, power stores and offices, communicate with the world, and so much more. But America’s infrastructure has fallen behind today — and it’s holding our economy back.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce convened leaders last week from government, businesses, and leading industry associations to kick off the conversation on infrastructure modernization. As part of that event, we laid out four key ideas to guide the debate.
First, to pay for badly needed upgrades to our roads, bridges, and transit systems, we support a modest increase in the federal fuel user fee of five cents a year over the next five years. This fuel tax hasn’t been raised in 25 years, and revenues needed to maintain surface transportation have dwindled due to inflation and rising fuel efficiency. Americans are willing to contribute a little more if it means better, safer roads.
Second, to upgrade our airports, seaports, waterways, rail systems, utilities, and other core infrastructure, we need a multifaceted approach that leverages public and private resources. Federal infrastructure investment doesn’t need to be a massive expenditure that is paid for all at once and up front. There are a number of innovative financing strategies that would allow us to begin building today, while paying for projects over the long term.
Third, we must reform the permitting process. Currently, it can take longer to get government approval for a project than it takes to construct it. Congress should merge certain review processes and streamline others to ensure that it never takes more than two years to complete a federal permit.
Finally, rebuilding America’s infrastructure will require skilled workers ready to take on new projects. Yet 78% of construction firms report that they are having a hard time finding qualified workers. To address this, Congress and the administration must expand apprenticeships and workforce programs and protect the skilled workers that come from programs like DACA and TPS.
These are important aspects of infrastructure modernization, and the Chamber will be working closely with leaders in government from both parties as they negotiate the details. If Congress and the administration can come together to tackle infrastructure modernization, it will boost economic growth and pave the way toward our nation’s future.