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Orlando Sentinel: Healthy infrastructure key to jobs, economy – column


Opinion piece by Paula Dockery in the Orlando Sentinel (3/31/16 edition) argues healthy infrastructure is critical to a strong economy in Florida and across the country. It also requires significant investment from all levels of government.

Unfortunately, Dockery says our current infrastructure is outdated and unsafe. John Oliver made a similar case last year about the US’ crumbling infrastructure in a memorable “Last Week Tonight” segment (view here on YouTube).

Read Paula Dockery’s full article below.

There’s a simple way to create jobs and get our much-improved economy to shift into high gear.

What would help the economy here in Florida and throughout America? Not throwing public resources at private industry to get them to hop from state to state. Not shutting down government or government spending. Not privatizing all government functions or subsidizing private industry.

What would help is using our tax dollars wisely by prioritizing spending on building and maintaining our infrastructure. This is neither a new nor earthshaking concept. Government leaders have turned to infrastructure projects many times to give the economy a needed boost or to put people to work. Now there’s another reason: Our infrastructure is old, outdated and, in some cases, unsafe.

While unemployment is low — 4.9 percent nationally and in Florida — underemployment is high, and wage growth is stagnant.

Instead of government picking the winners and losers, why not create opportunity through major infrastructure projects and let local small businesses compete for various portions of the job? New businesses would form, and existing businesses could grow.

Unfortunately, political partisanship has prevented investment in infrastructure to the degree President Obama has been pushing. It’s disappointing — improving our infrastructure has typically been a bipartisan effort.

Can you imagine life without an interstate-highway system? We can thank President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who recognized that the roads would be necessary for commerce and travel — as well as national defense.

With a vision of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth, President John F. Kennedy announced a $7 billion expansion of the space program in 1961 — quite an ambitious goal.

Whether through necessity or a forward vision, our infrastructure projects have defined us as a nation. Isn’t this part of the discourse of the current presidential campaign in both political parties?

For Donald Trump, his “Make America Great Again” — while primarily disparaging current leadership — speaks to our crumbling infrastructure. Trump has frequently mentioned the embarrassing state of disrepair of some of our major airports.

Oh, and he wants to build a wall.

For Bernie Sanders, who talks about a rigged system that benefits the billionaires and leaves out the disappearing middle class, investing in infrastructure provides opportunities for workers. There would be a need for skilled labor as well as educators to provide skills and vocational training. This helps Main Street without hurting Wall Street.

John Kasich talks about building communities, and Hillary Clinton shares the president’s vision of a national high-speed rail system.

Despite opposition to Obama’s stimulus spending, very few states were willing to turn down infrastructure dollars amid the Great Recession. There were transportation stimulus funds for roads, bridges, sidewalks, airports and rail. These funds helped Florida in our economic recovery.

The decision to turn down $2.2 billion in federal transportation funds for high-speed rail ranks as one of Gov. Rick Scott’s biggest mistakes. Consider the consequences — the loss of jobs and the failure to ease congestion along Interstate 4. We lost not only the initial construction jobs, the related manufacturing jobs and the ongoing operations and maintenance jobs, but we also lost the potential associated development that would have spurred future job opportunities and investment in the state. What a shame.

There are other infrastructure needs in Florida outside the transportation arena.

There is no shortage of repairs, improvements and upgrades needed in our water, sewer and wastewater-treatment plants. Taking on these critical projects not only prepares us for the future by utilizing the latest technology, but also may protect us from epidemics, health hazards and vulnerabilities to our life-sustaining water supply and delivery systems. It also prevents further costly damage to our natural systems — springs, lakes, rivers and estuaries.

Our schools, colleges, universities, prisons, government office buildings and parks have a growing backlog of maintenance and facility needs. Just upgrading the outdated technology would create jobs, improve efficiency, enhance security and make our institutions more competitive.

The nation’s electric power grid is in desperate need of capacity and modernization to address reliability problems. Our high-speed Internet access should be uniformly available, even in more rural areas.

Addressing our infrastructure needs requires spending.

In Florida, we throw tens of millions of dollars at corporations to relocate or expand here — a questionable endeavor with questionable success. We should spend that money to improve our infrastructure and thus create jobs and opportunities for individuals and businesses.

Instead of throwing money at senseless wars, foreign aid and rebuilding infrastructure elsewhere, why don’t we invest in our own country?

Paula Dockery served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland.

View original story here on the Orlando Sentinel‘s website.

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