Congress is debating temporary funding for the National Highway Trust Fund, which is responsible for more than $50 billion in grants for infrastructure projects annually. The fund, predicted to run out of money in August, has used $52 billion more than its account has received in revenue over the past 10 years.
Though Congress always patches the holes in the fund’s budget, these temporary solutions appear to be losing viability as the gap between revenue and expenditures is predicted to grow to $167 billion between fiscal years 2015 and 2024.
These budget shortfalls stem from the perpetually decreasing revenue of the federal gas tax, which has remained unchanged at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993, while cars have become more fuel-efficient, inflation has diminished returns and construction costs have continued to increase — reducing the purchasing power of the fund.
Failing infrastructure is bad for the economy. In 2012 Americans spent upwards of 4.75 billion hours in traffic congestion, wasting approximately $100 billion of fuel. Moreover, flawed infrastructure can threaten public safety, of which Oklahomans are particularly aware: 21 percent of our bridges are considered structurally deficient, a number that increased earthquake activity will likely escalate.
Common Sense Action is a bipartisan advocacy group of millennials that works to bring an increasingly ideologically diverse millennial generation together to facilitate bipartisanship in politics. CSA proposes two relevant solutions to infrastructure in its “Agenda for Generational Equity.”
First, the federal government should undertake an expansion of initiatives that encourage private investment into infrastructure projects. Thus, areas without sufficient public funding can get the attention their infrastructure and industry require. Public-private partnerships eliminate some of the political roadblocks that prevent efficient approaches to improvement and development.
Second, the federal tax on fuel should be indexed to inflation. Thus, the highway fund would be appropriately funded at a rate that reflects economic fluctuation, which in turn eases the burden on the consumer in economic downturns.
Aside from providing solvency for the highway fund and bolstering infrastructure, these proposals would invigorate our timid economy by creating jobs and promoting research and development. Easing the difficulties of travel eliminates waste from traffic congestion. Enabling physical travel swells social mobility, as the area in which individuals can feasibly consume and produce goods, pursue employment and participate politically expands.
In short, providing for our infrastructure eliminates impediments to local, state and national economies, creating a more free market.
Political disaffection and gridlock have allowed stale infrastructure policy to persist. Of course, members of Congress take their cues from public action. The real fault is that millennials, who stand to lose the most from an insolvent highway fund, have allowed their voices to be disjointed and passive. If common sense and good governance are to prevail in addressing infrastructure, it will only be at the hand of an active millennial generation claiming its role in American politics.
Lynch, a senior at the University of Oklahoma, is a Ewing Fellow serving in the office of U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne. Lynch is co-founder of OU's chapter of Common Sense Action.