US president Barack Obama is spending much of this week pushing his multi-year plan to spend $300 billion on infrastructure and to keep current funding from expiring next month — issues dear to the hearts of the nation’s steel executives.
The week started off with the White House release of a new report on “the long-term economic benefits of transportation investment.” The 26-page report notes that 65% of America’s major roads are rated in less than good condition; 25% of its bridges require significant repair or can’t handle today’s traffic, and that 45% of Americans lack access to transit.
The American Iron and Steel Institute, representing the bulk of American steel producers, has two very good reasons for supporting the push for more infrastructure spending. While the most obvious is the increased demand for steel, the industry also relies heavily on water transportation to move supplies such as scrap, iron ore and coal into its mills and to move finished steel out to its customers.
Citing a report by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the AISI notes that aging infrastructure in America’s ports and waterways was responsible for delays costing $33 billion in 2010, and that handicap is expected to increase to nearly $49 billion in 2020. Costly delays are also proliferating on America’s roads and bridges due to increased weight restrictions prompted by deteriorating infrastructure.
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“A globally competitive national economy depends on an effective and efficient transportation infrastructure,” the AISI states.
Everyone seems to agree that the need to fix America’s roads, bridges and waterways is critical. But Obama’s plan to fund the upgrades longer term includes corporate tax restructuring and Congress once again stands in opposition. So Obama is taking his effort on the road in a series of speeches and photo-ops in front of crumbling infrastructure.
There is an old saying that the business of America is business. As a practical matter it would seem wise for corporations to accept some effectively higher taxes for the benefit of all, including themselves and the economy. In the words of 19th century French social critic Alexis de Tocqueville: “The greatness of America lies in not being more enlightened but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”