Green Fees:  The Nation's Infrastructure

April/May 2017 VOL 15 No. 2

Nicholas R. Hild, PhD.


In the last issue of the Journal, I proposed a plan to spend the trillion dollars our President said in his Joint Address to Congress in February he would utilize to rebuild our nation's infrastructure. At that time, the President gave no plan details, so, to flesh out a plan that meets bipartisan goals, I am suggesting that we first need to take a page from President Roosevelt's successful Public Works Administration (PWA) program circa 1933-1939, then known as part of his 'New Deal.' A major part of the 'New Deal' plan was aimed at putting people back to work on public infrastructure programs, many of which have now fallen into disrepair and need to be included in the infrastructure reconstruction plan outlined here. And that's why the PWA is such a good model for our plan.

During its existence, the PWA spent more than $4 billion (in 1930's dollars!) constructing more than 70 percent of the nations' new educational buildings, 65 percent of the nation's  courthouses, city halls, and sewage-disposal plants, 35 percent of its new public-health facilities, and 10 percent of all new roads, bridges, and subways in existence at that time. (Bureau of Labor Statistics; jstor.org).  That now 80+ year old infrastructure today needs to be brought into the digital age in addition to reconstructing what decaying physical and electrical infrastructure is already there. So, a trillion dollars in today's dollars may not be equivalent to Four Billion dollars in 1930's dollars but it will go a long way if we embrace a new PWI plan that generates the funds to support the program into the next decade. And, that is what I am proposing.

The first step, as it was with the PWA program, is to design and implement a training program to train a large work force in a way that they will have the skills necessary to be productive workers for the contractors who will design, build, and reconstruct our vast network of public infrastructure 'systems'--- a task that will require converting and repurposing many of our closed military bases--- into training centers in various locations all across the country.

To actually carry out the plan will take a lot of heavy equipment and, fortunately, this comes at a time when, according to the Government Accounting Office, there is a lot of surplus military heavy construction equipment the military wants to find a home for, now that we no longer are sending it to the middle east to build bases and infrastructure.  And, it is exactly the type of equipment that can be utilized for both training and actual infrastructure construction which would make it possible that training programs at those idle and vacant military facilities could be set up where men and women could be housed and trained in 'basic (infrastructure) construction' and 'advanced skills' specialties that utilize new digitaltechnologies for infrastructure, over a period of weeks or months. There are already heavy equipment operators and skilled active duty military personnel who specialize in road and airstrip (concrete) and bridge construction who could become 'temporary duty' instructors at the training sites. Plus, there are numerous large private construction engineering companies that specialize in civilian infrastructure design/build who would bid on training contracts to augment any areas where the military were unable to meet a particular specialty need.

The repurposed military bases themselves can be remodeled, in part, by the trainees as part of their 'hands-on' training, to take advantage of the previous on-site military accoutrements including kitchens and mess halls, barracks, dormitories and housing, laundry and clothing (work uniforms if necessary).  And training on surplus military heavy equipment (dozers, road graders, ditch diggers, heavy dump trucks, skip loaders, water wagons; etc.) from military sources that would be transferred to the newly formed Public Works Infrastructure Department (PWI: a spin-off of the old PWA acronym?)---contractor companies that would be operational across the U.S.--- and bid on government contracts to provide the instructors and training at each facility.  

And, this brings us to the real conundrum of rebuilding the nation's infrastructure: money. Where will the money come from to pay for all this? During the Obama administration's efforts to address the nation's infrastructure problems, they proposed increasing the national gasoline tax by a penny or two a gallon to pay for it but Republicans declared that to be a non-starter---the tax has been 18.4 cents since 1993 and their 'no-new tax' mantra means it's unlikely to change any time soon in the GOP-controlled congress….unless, we (i.e. Congress) are clever in how we vet such a tax.  Even the six-year highway bill that the former Obama administration Senate Environment and Public Works committee approved for a July 31,  2017 implementation is still in search of funding because it was to be paid for with new taxes that Republicans balked at. So any kind of new "tax" that purports to relate to infrastructure is going to need very unique and creative ministrations to effect a positive outcome, even if the President wants it to happen.
But, here's the best reason to revisit the gas tax funding plan: this plan puts large numbers of people back to work, both military and non-vets plus a lot of chronically homeless people who genuinely want to work along with thousands of people who have been unemployed for many years. That was one of the major goals of Roosevelt's PWA program and it has been this President's mantra for months: jobs, jobs, jobs. It should be a part of this plan, too.

So, finding the monies to solve the myriad of different economic and critical infrastructure problems would seem to be a bipartisan win-win for our congressional leaders, even if it means calling a fuel "tax" something politically acceptable (like a temporary infrastructure fee or a 'green fee on fuel' that has a ten year sunset date of 2027 or whenever). Congress has been known to concoct all sorts of funding schemes that they have finagled for their pet projects in the past. So, why not for this infrastructure plan? And more people with jobs means more people driving to work and buying fuel on a daily basis---generating a trillion dollars in less time than it normally takes Congress to pass legislation.

With the President saying he wants a bipartisan plan to rebuild our infrastructure, here's an opportunity for Congress to show the public they really can reach across the aisle and do something that benefits all Americans: unemployed veterans and non-veterans alike, able-bodied unemployed people who want to work, and local communities with small businesses that surround the repurposed military bases. Also, just think about all the spin-off-trickle-down dollars that will flow to other businesses that provide infrastructure materials (i.e. steel, aluminum, piping, electrical and mechanical equipment…..the list goes on) for the actual infrastructure rebuild as well as base (realignment) reconstruction and training efforts.

The time is now and there is no better reason for you to embrace this bipartisan infrastructure plan, than: do it for our children's, children's, children.

September 2018 Vol 16 No. 9