WE NEED REAL INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT NOW
It should go without saying that we need to invest in our roads, bridges, highways, electric grid, drinking water and broadband, the things we call “infrastructure.” They are the essential building blocks of our lives. If you’ve ever been late for work, or for an airline flight, because you were crawling through a one-lane sea of cones on I-69 for the last several years, I don’t have to tell you that! And of course, when we manage our infrastructure investments intelligently, the money stays here in Indiana, creating economic activity and good jobs. We also need to invest in the sustainable energy sources of the future, like wind and solar.
Sadly, our leaders in Indiana and Washington don’t seem to get it. Because of lousy priorities and inaction in Washington, our infrastructure is crumbling. The American Society of Civil Engineers recently released its review of our nation’s infrastructure giving it a grade of D+. It had this to say about Indiana: “Driving on roads in need of repair in Indiana costs each driver $272 per year, and 20.5% of bridges are rated structurally deficient. Drinking water needs in Indiana are an estimated $5.9 billion, and wastewater needs total 7.16 billion. 240 dams are considered to be high-hazard potential.”
We can’t cut corners on infrastructure investments. But that is exactly what Mike Pence and Donald Trump are doing with their privatization proposals. The Trump-Pence infrastructure plan is almost entire based on asking businesses, cash-strapped states and small towns to pay for nearly 90 percent of the cost, and selling off ownership of our public assets. That is no substitute for a real federal investment.
In Southern Indiana, we know what happens when you do infrastructure wrong. Governor Pence did not want to commit state money to the I-69 project. He went with the lowest bidder, a Spanish company that had NO experience building roads in the United States. It financed the project with bonds that are now junk. The company stiffed the workers. Nine of its executives have been charged with embezzlement and the company has gone into bankruptcy. The state has now taken over the project and it will cost an additional $162 million to finish the project, two years behind schedule.
Let’s not bring the I-69 approach to infrastructure to the rest of the country. I stand behind a proposal Congressional Democrats have introduced that would make real investments in infrastructure, including $140 billion for roads and bridges, $115 billion for water and sewer infrastructure and $50 billion to rebuild schools, $40 billion to build high-speed Internet connections in rural areas, and $80 billion to upgrade the country’s energy grid. It will create 15 million jobs. These are the kind of investments that will make us a stronger, safer, more prosperous nation.
We should take this opportunity to train our workforce for the jobs of the future in renewable energy, wind and solar, and in other emerging sectors of our economy.
We should also ensure that the jobs created through an infrastructure investment are good jobs. This means ensuring that Davis-Bacon's requirements to pay prevailing wages on federally-funded construction projects are included and that any infrastructure project adhere to the highest standards of safety and quality.
I would like to see provision for project labor agreements (PLAs) in any infrastructure proposal. Since 2009, the federal government has had a policy in place of supporting PLAs in any large-scale, federally-funded construction contract. PLAs are pre-hire collective bargaining agreements that establish the terms and conditions of employment on a construction project. Not only do PLAs help ensure that tax-payer funded jobs will be good jobs, but they also help ensure that the work performed is high quality and safe. We have incredibly strong registered union apprenticeship programs in the building trades that have trained a skilled workforce nationwide of tradesmen and women. It makes sense for federally funded infrastructure projects to both draw from this pool of highly skilled workers and support an investment in registered union apprenticeships for the next generation.
Sean McGarvey, President of the North American Building Trades Union, recently observed: "Moving forward, the question that U.S. policymakers must ask is this: How can we, as a nation, ensure that investments in our nation’s infrastructure are not only prudent in terms of “on time, on budget” results, but also work to ensure that American workers and American communities are empowered through strong community wage and benefit protections, combined with life-changing opportunities via apprenticeship-readiness and formal apprenticeship programs?"
Supporting PLAs will support both "on-time, on-budget" projects (unlike I-69!) and a skilled workforce to fill the jobs of the future.
While most people think about roads, bridges, and highways, when we think about an infrastructure investment, any infrastructure package should also include child care. Strengthening our child care infrastructure -- meaning improving pay and training opportunities for providers and increasing funding for child care assistance -- goes hand in hand with the investments we ought to be making in our physical infrastructure. We maintain our roads, bridges, and highways because it promotes economic development now and in the future. The same can be said for child care. The early years are the most important time to invest in a child and have a profound impact on a child's earning capacity as an adult. Likewise, unless parents can access affordable, high-quality child care, their ability to fill jobs that are newly-created through an infrastructure investment will be severely limited.