A presidential promise to rebuild the nation’s roads curdled into a running joke a few years ago when the Trump White House’s self-proclaimed “Infrastructure Week” crumbled under the weight of scandal and futility.
On Wednesday, President Biden unveiled his own plan to spend more than $2 trillion over eight years on public works — matching a price tag once floated by his predecessor — ushering in a sort of Infrastructure Decade. And it’s no joke.
Biden’s proposal includes $115 billion for roads, highways and bridges, with an appropriate focus on repairing run-down vehicle infrastructure rather than adding more. And it dedicates $85 billion to updating and expanding mass transit systems, a significant need in the Bay Area and beyond, while allocating nearly that much to deferred Amtrak maintenance.
The proposed doubling of federal expenditures on public transportation is part of an appropriate broader emphasis on stemming global warming by providing alternatives to fossil-fuel-powered vehicles, the nation’s largest source of greenhouse gases. The president’s legislation would spend $174 billion on grants and incentives to expand infrastructure for charging electric vehicles and otherwise encourage their use, and it would spend $20 billion on making roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians. It also includes $580 billion for research, training and manufacturing focused on clean energy and climate change.
The employment-boosting plan goes beyond transportation to fund other fundamental needs, from broadband access to public schools. At least two, affordable housing and drinking water, are especially acute in California. It even takes a shot at a broken nursing home system by funding more home-based care for older Americans.
Biden proposes paying for all this by taking back just half the massive corporate tax cut Congress passed under Trump and establishing a tax floor to prevent dodging. That’s sensible but falls well short of covering all the spending. Given how much would be spent on asphalt, gasoline and mileage taxes should be considered to make up the difference.
Like its spending particulars, paying for the plan raises plenty of policy and political questions. They’re worth answering because these overdue, long-term investments in the country are — unlike, say, tax cuts for the rich — worth paying for.
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