Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell urged elected officials to up their investment in infrastructure, echoing the call made by President Obama in his State of the Union speech last week.
Rendell said the country needs to increase its infrastructure spending by about $200 billion more per year across all levels of government – a tricky prospect at a time when state and local governments are struggling with shortfalls, and the federal government has shown a heightened commitment to spending reductions.
“We are truly falling apart and falling behind,” said Rendell, speaking at a Governing's Outlook in the States and Localities Conference on Tuesday. Rendell is a co-chair of Building America's Future Educational Fund, a bipartisan group that promotes infrastructure investment.
His comments came on the same day that House leaders were poised to unveil a new surface transportation bill that calls for $260 billion in spending over five years. Meanwhile, the Senate is pursuing a plan for a two-year, $109 billion bill.
Both fall well-short of what Rendell and many transportation experts have said is necessary to improve or even maintain the condition of the country’s transportation infrastructure.
A report issued by former Transportation Secretaries Norman Mineta and Samuel Skinner, for example, estimates that all levels of government need to spend an extra $134 million to $194 million to maintain the current system. The federal share of that shortfall, they estimate, is about $60 billion to $87 billion.
The driver of that shortfall is largely the declining purchasing power of the gas tax, which hasn’t been increased since 1993 and isn’t tied to inflation. The account that funds federal spending on highways will essentially be broke by the end of the fiscal year, according to a new Congressional Budget Office report, due to inadequate gas tax receipts.
Rendell suggested a gas tax hike may be necessary to meet those goals, blasting conservative leader Grover Norquist --head of the powerful anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform – for making it nearly impossible for some politicians to agree to tax increases that could be used to fund infrastructure. Hundreds of politicians have signed pledges he authored that indicates their promise not to support tax increases.
But Rendell said people will support infrastructure spending, as long as that spending comes with transparency, accountability and decision-making made on a cost-benefit basis. Those sentiments were echoed by Judge Glen Whitley of Tarrant County, Texas, who said citizens want to see what they’re getting for their money.