With President-elect Obama and the Democratic congressional leadership both viewing infrastructure spending as a magic stimulus that will end the recession, such spending will happen. But will Congress write a sensible, well-targeted bill—or will timeliness and efficiency lose out to old-time politics?
Obama declared in his December 6 radio address that he wants “the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s.” Moreover, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar, Democrat of Minnesota, has outlined plans to spend $45 billion on transportation projects alone, never mind the schools, computers, and other public facilities listed hopefully by Obama.
No matter that the economy needs stimulus right now, and infrastructure expenditures take time to plan and execute, with funds spent over many years. Nor that the country’s 10.3 million unemployed workers might lack the skills needed to lay down roads and erect bridges.
In the past, federal and state governments allocated infrastructure spending politically rather than by return on investment. Taped conversations of Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich suggest that an engineering company raised $60,000 for the governor in exchange for his support for an infrastructure bill, and a concrete company was asked for $500,000 for approval of a $1.8 billion toll road.