Tuesday, February 14, 2017

[NJFAC] Thinking about an Infrastructure Program

Thinking about an Infrastructure Program: Part I       By Frank Stricker
             Here is a link to a useful, short piece on what might be coming down the pike this spring: Trump's infrastructure plan has huge risks It was written by AP reporters Joan Lowy and David A. Lieb and I read it in Business Insider. The article discussed several issues we should be thinking about, but did not include others that should be addressed if we want a good program. Here's a partial list from Lowy and Lieb and others, including your author. You can also look at Robert Reich's five-minute video, at Robert Reich: Trump's infrastructure scam - YouTube
1. Why bother? Do we need a big new program? Most of us say yes; so do the experts. The engineers give America's infrastructure a D+.
2. Privatize? Should structures or at least their revenues be privatized? Two of Mr. Trump's advisors, economist Peter Navarro and billionaire, now Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, published a campaign paper on October 27, 2016, called "Trump versus Clinton on Infrastructure." It goes without saying that there was nothing about taxing the rich and corporations more to help finance a major push on infrastructure. Just the opposite. It was about cutting regulations, offering huge tax credits to builders and investors, and paying off investors and builders from revenues and fees generated by public structures. During the campaign Mr. Trump promised a trillion-dollar program. Can $123 billion in tax credits generate $1 trillion of repairs and new construction?  If private firms are in control and dependent on fees and tools to support their expenditures, will we end up having to buy a ticket to get into our new neighborhood park? (More likely neighborhood parks and things like that will not be built.) Will local water rates soar after the pipes are fixed? And what kind of revenue stream can be generated from filling pot holes? Much of what is hinted in the Navarro-Ross paper is vague and much is utopian about the wonders of private control and cutting government regulations.
3.Taxation? If not enough can be done with tax credits, will the President and his aides work hard to raise money to do what is needed?  The president and especially Congressional Republicans are all about tax cuts of almost every kind. But if they won't agree to tax the rich and large businesses to repair the infrastructure, will they at least agree to raise the gas tax, which has not been increased in two decades? The increase could ramp up road repair projects and some of the funds could give a boost to mass transit as well. And will Trump be able to get Tea Party types to allow larger budget deficits to finance infrastructure improvements? In general, can we expect that Wall Street investors, rich conservative donors, and Republicans in Congress will support a program that is as clean and large as the country needs? In the old days Republicans liked public improvements that came to their own districts, but is that generalization true of the privatizers in today's party?
4. Equal Access to Jobs? Nothing in the Navarro-Ross publication nor anything else we've heard from the Trump camp has addressed the question of whether equal access to jobs and benefits will be guaranteed to minorities, poor people, women, the disabled, and others who often face hiring discrimination. Will the administration only practice affirmative action for non-college-educated white people in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and West Virginia? The Navarro-Ross paper promises to expedite construction programs--less red tape and fewer regulations. A streamlined application process--it's hard to disagree with that general idea. But what if streamlining is mainly about cutting equality provisions and environmental regulations? If you really want to eliminate the EPA and clean air regulations, as many Republicans do, that means people who live and work in and near workplaces and building projects that generate a lot of dirt and dangerous poisons are out of luck. 
5. Wages. Will there be wage guarantees for people working in the program? Mr. Trump does not support a $15 federal minimum, nor does the man he wants as Labor Secretary. That's not a good sign. Even $15 an hour for a full-time year-round job is just a bit over $30,000 and that's not much for any kind of household, even one with a single member, especially in a big city.
6. Hard Goods Only? Should infrastructure be thought of, mainly, as a question of hard goods--bridges and roads and buildings and so on? Or should we expand the concept so that, for example, we could consider an upgrade for the care industry as part of an infrastructure program? Or should such programs be discussed and fixed separately?
7. Doesn't government always screw things up?  Coming soon. In a later article, I will touch on the WPA, CCC, PWA, and CWA--job programs of the 1930s--and Obama's stimulus package of 2009. Also the difficulties that accompanied the introduction of George Bush's Medicare D program and Obama's Affordable Care Act. And the catastrophes that followed when Wall Street was given a free hand to manage a big chunk of the economy in the late 1920s and early 2000s.
Frank Stricker is emeritus professor of history and labor studies at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and he is a member of the National Jobs for All Coalition. He's finishing a book about the history and future of American unemployment. 

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