Voters across the nation passed $70.3 billion of bond issuances for infrastructure construction and improvements, the largest amount approved since 2006
By Sergio Flores
Across the nation, U.S. voters approved $70.3 billion of bond issuances to fund infrastructure projects. It’s no secret our infrastructure is deteriorating rapidly. Public scandals like the outdated water infrastructure in Flint, Michigan or the D+ annual report from the American Society of Civil Engineers have put a spotlight on our infrastructure needs. Thankfully, Americans responded well.
The approval marks the largest amount of borrowing the country has seen since 2006, when more than $80 billion of bonds filled the ballots. Approved bonds will be used for many of our nation’s infrastructure needs, including repairing schools, mass transit, roads, and more.
A big winner in the election was California’s education, passing Proposition 51 or the California Public School Facility Bonds Initiative. The approved $9 billion proposition will help fund improvement and construction of school facilities for K-12 schools, in addition to charter schools and community colleges.
Across the country, local and state governments’ cries for funds for infrastructure were heard. Atlanta’s increase in sales tax will provide $2.5 billion for expanding mass transit and $340 million for road accessories, such as smarter traffic signals, sidewalk and bike paths; New Jersey’s increased gas tax revenue will be directed towards transportation developments; Rhode Island approved $70 million for port improvements; and so forth.
The large amount of bonds on ballots across the nation for infrastructure is a clear sign that local and state governments are no longer waiting on federal funds for improvements that are needed today.
Taxes were utilized again in this election to help stimulate funding. In Los Angeles, voters approved a half-cent sales tax hike that, over the next 40 years, will fund some $120 billion that will be used for transit operations and construction. In the Bay Area, voters approved $3.5 billion for BART infrastructure updates. Locals were enthusiastic, seeing as the Bay Area’s BART system had cars more than 40 years old and space was extremely limited. An update was crucial and voters agreed.
President and CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation, Robert Puentes, notes that local policymakers being in control of their infrastructure funding is nothing novel to American politics. “For years, transportation decision-making took place in the back rooms and the board rooms of the highway establishment—it was really an impenetrable process,” commented Puentes. “Folks want to have more say in these decisions that have as much to do with the health, pace, and shape of their communities as any other area in domestic policy.” The nation’s last federal grant for infrastructure was last year with the passing of the FAST Act, but funds have trickled down at a glacial pace, solving nothing.
The funding doesn’t stop there, though. The newly-elected 45th President-elect of the United States, Donald J. Trump, spoke to the battleground state in Gettysburg, Pa., less than two weeks before Election Day to outline what a Trump Presidency would entail. One of his highlights is the American Energy & Infrastructure Act which hopes to leverage public-private partnerships (PPPs) and private investments through tax incentives, where he hopes to garner $1 trillion infrastructure investment over the next ten years. The switch to a more ‘business’ like funding for infrastructure is where many economists, municipal leaders and managers, and policymakers see the future of infrastructure funding heading towards.
Bloomberg TV hosted a conversation about PPPS, featuring Bill Rudin, CEO and Vice Chairman of Rudin Management. Rudin lauded Trump’s business-like endeavors for funding, and when discussing the renovation of LaGuardia Airport, Rudin said, “The private sector is taking on the responsibility of cost overruns so the government and the taxpayers aren’t on the hook. They’re incentivized to work hard and come in under budget, and if they don’t, it comes it out of their pockets. It’s a business deal and I think the president-elect has that experience negotiating those deals.”
Many “shovel-ready projects” would benefit from the speedy and less complicated form of funding of PPPs. In fact, to support the effectiveness of PPPs, Rudin cited several projects that were made faster and more efficiently due to PPPs, including LaGuardia Airport, Tappan Zee Bridge, Brooklyn Navy Yard, and more.
No matter which way we proceed to fund infrastructure problems, we mustn’t approach the problem with a quick solution, but a thoughtful and long-term solution that will provide us with resilient and sustainable infrastructure with a strong longevity, just in case we don’t get any significant funding again for another ten years.
Sergio Flores is an Assistant Editor for American Infrastructure magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.