Guest column: Our infrastructure needs focused policies, not wasteful spending

The latest Rich States, Poor States report ranks Illinois 42nd in the nation in overall economic performance. But our 47th ranking in economic outlook indicates we are heading in the wrong direction.

This should come as no surprise considering that state and local debt swallows a stunning 11.2% of our tax revenue — the worst in the nation.

The last thing Illinois needs is to add more to our tax burdens.

But President Joe Biden’s so-called infrastructure scheme, with a $4-trillion price tag, would pile $2 trillion in new taxes onto working families and small businesses who can least afford them, with very little infrastructure to show for it.

Instead, the administration is selling its “American Jobs Plan” and “American Families Plan” as a two-fer wrapped into one “hard” and “human” infrastructure plan that steers more than 95% of funds toward wasteful partisan wish lists unrelated to roads or bridges.

Put another way, the largest spending bill in American history — nearly as much as the entire federal government’s spent in the last pre-pandemic fiscal year — would send less than 6 percent toward real infrastructure improvements.

More than $1 trillion is slated for special interest carveouts that would rig the economy in favor of well-connected businesses and industries.

And it’s often tough for politicians to resist the temptation to sneak pet projects into spending packages. We saw this in earmarks to fund various causes baked into COVID-19 spending.

We also see supporters declaring the president’s plan would create 2.7 million jobs. But massive federal projects rarely fulfill such promises.

And no cheerleading from Washington about new jobs can disguise what the math makes clear: taxpayers would be on the hook for more than $800,000 per job via the largest tax hike in a generation.

The White House proposes paying for its eight years of spending with a 15-year tax increase absurdly referred to as “temporary.” It wouldn’t even come close to covering the full cost, meaning the rest would be borrowed, added to the country’s $30 trillion national debt, and left to our children and grandchildren.

Illinoisans know better than most the costs of inheriting a long-term legacy of debt created by politicians with short-term promises — 11.2% of our paychecks, remember?

We can all agree on the need for infrastructure reform. Especially in Illinois, which earned a C-minus grade on the Army Society of Civil Engineers’ most recent Infrastructure Report Card.

And we can do it without massive tax increases and trillions in new spending.

For starters, lawmakers from both parties should redirect their focus from dollar figures and political feasibility to real reforms in the ways we build and maintain our roads and bridges.

Our onerous and costly regulatory and permitting system is long overdue for an overhaul. This laser-focused reform would modernize infrastructure reviews and reduce project costs without a hefty cost.

In the same vein, we should preserve federal infrastructure dollars for targeted projects considered a national priority. Eliminating expensive and unfair labor restrictions such as the Davis-Bacon Act would save nearly $11 billion over 10 years.

Let’s also return infrastructure decision-making to states whenever possible. After all, there’s no way all of the 535 voting members of Congress can know the pain of the Dan Ryan at rush hour.

U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in April that in the pandemic’s wake, “we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this year to fix our nation’s neglected infrastructure and set our country up for economic success for decades to come.”

We agree on the sentiment, if not the particulars, and encourage Underwood and every member of the Illinois delegation to use this opportunity to rethink how we fund, plan, and build infrastructure.

Jason Heffley is state director of Americans for Prosperity-Illinois.