Brooke Wisdom

April 1, 2011

Another Road to Reauthorization

By Therese Dunphy

Garth Brooks, Lady Gaga, and Britney Spears all performed while the construction industry flocked to Las Vegas for ConExpo-Con/Agg 2011, but the most entertaining show may have been Steve Forbes’ keynote address during the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association’s general session on March 24.

Forbes, the CEO of Forbes, Inc. and editor-in-chief of Forbes magazine, offered keen insights into the economic and political issues at play in the U.S. and world markets and suggested strategies on how to influence business conditions. “You’re going into some serious headwinds,” Forbes said, adding that he doesn’t believe that Congress will pass an increase to the fuel tax. Instead, he offered a four-pronged approach for dialogue between operators and Congress.

1. Push for a dedicated Highway Trust Fund. Make sure it serves the purpose for which it was intended and nothing else.

2. Tell Congress that the industry is open to public-private partnerships. Although financing of such projects may be a challenge in the current economy, Forbes predicted improved market conditions in the next 24 months.

3. Make sure Congress knows that we are against earmarks. In the light of an enormous federal deficit, Congress needs to know that we don’t want wasteful spending; we want transparent and responsible spending.

4. Start educating new members of Congress on the industry’s role in America’s health, and draw the correlation between transportation and the overall economy. “We’re in a new era,” Forbes advised. “Help them understand what you do. Even though things are bad, we need infrastructure. There is a word called investment, and when it’s used properly, it’s a powerful tool.”

Forbes advocated a two-year bill that would allow time to educate Congress as well as for the economy to recover before passing a long-term funding bill. While that might be a hard pill to swallow, remember that 680 days of extensions were enacted before the passage of SAFETEA-LU, and that bill expired Sept. 30, 2009.

While President Obama has modeled his economic policy after FDR, Forbes pointed to a more recent president as having the right economic blueprint — Ronald Reagan. From the post-World War II era until the rapid inflation of the late ’70s, the U.S. economy grew 3.3 percent a year, he said. When Reagan took office, that growth had come to a halt. Unemployment exceeded current levels, the stock market was down 70 percent, and mortgage rates were 18 percent. Reagan instituted tax cuts and deregulation policies that restored economic growth.

“We have the power to recover from setbacks and surge ahead,” Forbes said. “Get a few things right and the United States will again be the innovator and leader in the world.”

Forbes’ advice is sound. It may not be the road operators hoped to travel, but it may ultimately lead to the right destination.

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