The federal government needs to prioritize infrastructure
By Governor Larry Hogan
For decades, the success of the American economy and our nation’s enviable quality of life have gone hand-in-hand with the world’s best infrastructure. While we commonly think about infrastructure in terms of roads, bridges and other physical assets, it’s much bigger than that. Infrastructure is about getting people to work safely and on time, getting food and vital products to our households, and building the foundation of a robust and nimble economy that provides opportunity for Americans.
We’ve long considered infrastructure as a collective responsibility. Governments from Washington, D.C., to statehouses, to city and township halls have worked together to develop roads, mass transit, airports, seaports, broadband and other infrastructure to nurture and sustain the strongest economy the world has ever known. Unfortunately, that partnership has frayed in recent years. Inaction by the federal government has put the onus on states to meet the infrastructure needs of the 21st century, even as we continue to call on policymakers in Washington to step up and restore our vital partnership.
Infrastructure stabilization and investment will improve our long-term economic recovery and support recovery from the pandemic recession by putting people back to work.
Direct federal infrastructure spending in 2016 was less than 0.1 % of GDP, whereas state and local spending neared 1.4%. States have utilized a variety of tools to pay for infrastructure, including taxes, tolls, and user fees. Through my National Governors Association Chair’s initiative, governors and other thought leaders are exploring how to best utilize the full toolbox of financing options and explore creative public-private partnerships to help stretch public dollars and make the most of our existing infrastructure while easing the path for new projects.
Governors are the leaders and problem-solvers in their states and territories. Whatever their political party, governors are focused on practical solutions to the issues in their states, whether healthcare, public safety or the challenge of upgrading and maintaining our nation’s infrastructure. Governors of both parties have risen to the extraordinary challenge of COVID-19 in their states and territories, whether by enacting measures to protect public health, provide for economic recovery, or lobby Congress and the White House for lifesaving medical equipment, testing and contact tracing capacity, and ultimately the aid we all need to get our economies back on track.
Investment in infrastructure is part of the solution. An aggressive infrastructure plan is essential to both continuing supply chain needs and long-term economic stimulus. This should include large scale investments in our nation’s traditional infrastructure systems, including not only roads, bridges, transit, and aviation systems, but also substantial investment in our energy, water, broadband, and cybersecurity infrastructure. Infrastructure stabilization and investment will improve our long-term economic recovery and support recovery from the pandemic recession by putting people back to work.
As chief executives of their states, governors oversee the agencies in charge of transportation, environmental protection, economic development and other functions that touch on infrastructure. They work closely with the state private sectors on funding solutions including public-private partnerships to bring new infrastructure online in a manner that meets their states’ needs within available resources.
As the leaders of the largest political subdivisions in the country, governors have a strong and important voice in Washington. Through their individual efforts and collectively through the National Governors Association, America’s governors are uniquely positioned to advocate to the federal government on the most important issues in their states, which include infrastructure. Governors are among their constituents every day and are keenly aware of their needs, yet governors also manage large and complex enterprises that, in many ways, mirror the federal government. With this combination of familiarity and scale, governors are ideal advocates for real-world solutions to the nation’s largest challenges.
We’ve all seen governors take the initiative for the health and security of their citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic. While COVID-19 has necessarily dominated governors’ agendas, we haven’t lost sight of the importance of modern, well-functioning infrastructure to support jobs and quality of life when we finally put this terrible pandemic behind us.
As the chairman of the National Governors Association in 2019 and 2020, I brought together thought leaders from government, business and academia to work with my fellow governors on developing the best ideas in pursuit of a common mission: building a more efficient, innovative, smart, resilient and secure infrastructure foundation for success. My NGA Chair’s Initiative, Infrastructure: Foundation for Success, was built around four pillars:
- Relieve Congestion to Boost Economic Competitiveness,
- Enhance Efficiency by Eliminating Red Tape and Integrating Smart Technology,
- Strengthen Security and Resiliency by Protecting America’s Critical Infrastructure from Disaster and Cyber Threats
- Finance for the Future by Leveraging Private Sector Investments.
Now is the time for the federal government to follow the example of governors and prioritize fixing our infrastructure to get our economy back on track. As we seek effective solutions to speed our economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, now is the time for a national program for infrastructure investment based on the common-sense principles governors have identified over the past year.
Governor Lawrence J. Hogan, Jr. was sworn in as the 62nd governor of the State of Maryland on January 21, 2015. In 2018, he was re-elected to a second four-year term.