We need jobs, not just unemployment insurance
The transportation construction industry supports more than 3 million jobs. Just think about the massive impact this industry has on employment in the U.S. It provides more domestic jobs than both U.S. motor vehicle and parts manufacturers and petroleum and coal products manufacturers. The infrastructure built, maintained and managed by this industry is the backbone of our economy.
Unfortunately, this sector is in its worst condition since World War II. The unemployment rate in construction is a staggering 20 percent — higher than for any other industry and two times the national unemployment rate of 9.5 percent.
Recently, Tom Foss, representing the Associated General Contractors of America, got at the root of the problem. Our “failure to pass a multiyear transportation bill creates significant market uncertainty,” Foss said, in testifying before the Senate. “The uncertainty makes it difficult to hold onto valued employees. It makes it hard to convince subcontractors to work for us. And it makes it hard to convince lenders to invest in us.”
A robust new highway bill is a three-fer. It is good for jobs and for an industry that is struggling, good for our competitive position in the global marketplace and good for our environment — traffic congestion, for example, contributes almost 30 percent to our greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition, construction is an economic stimulus we can afford at a time when we are borrowing more than 41 cents of every dollar we spend.
We do not need to borrow money for the transportation bill. We can pay for it by increasing the gas tax, which has not risen since 1993. The gas tax is a user fee, and just a few cents could help create jobs, improve our infrastructure and better the climate.
As President Ronald Reagan said in 1982, when the nation was facing record unemployment above 10 percent, “Good tax policy decrees that, wherever possible, a fee for a service should be assessed against those who directly benefit from that service.”
Reagan knew America was in dire straits and fought hard for a gas tax increase once he realized the effect it would have on the economy. It was a tough pill for his conservative colleagues to swallow. But, in the end, Congress passed the much-needed Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982, which provided a 5-cent gas tax increase and created hundreds of thousands of jobs. History speaks for itself.
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