Most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the meaning of the word “infrastructure”. But then, most people don’t live and work in Washington, DC.
For months, politicians and party groups in the nation’s capital have argued fiercely about what really matters and doesn’t count as infrastructure. It’s a huge sticking point in negotiations between Democrats and Republicans over the size and scope of a proposed infrastructure package worth hundreds of billions – and possibly trillions – of dollars. dollars.
“Our biggest gap is not the money. Our biggest gap is defining what infrastructure is, ”US Senator Roy Blunt, R-Mo told Fox News recently on Sunday.
For their part, Republicans have issued infrastructure proposals ranging from $ 568 billion to $ 928 billion, with a focus on roads, bridges, public transportation and better broadband access. The Biden administration, however, wants to go much further and has presented proposals totaling $ 1.7 trillion to $ 2.3 trillion. These infrastructure proposals also include many public policy changes, such as changing local zoning requirements for the housing sector and federal pre-emption of some state labor laws.
President Joe Biden faces pressure from members of his own party to get as much as they can, while they can. As US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said on social media: “Paid time off is an infrastructure. Child care is an infrastructure. Caregiving is infrastructure.
But if lawmakers are truly interested in finding common ground on what should and should not be considered an infrastructure investment, they should reflect on how business and civic leaders have approached this issue in Colorado.
The Colorado Infrastructure Committee – a diverse coalition of business groups, environmental organizations, academic officials, state and local government leaders, and other community representatives – has produced a comprehensive infrastructure plan for our state deep in the COVID-19 pandemic.
I was one of the committee’s advisers and helped produce a report on their findings, titled “Together We Build”. Certainly the committee considered what should and should not be considered infrastructure for the purposes of its recommendation, just as our leadership in Washington is doing now.
But ultimately, the committee concluded that infrastructure investments are those that support “the flow of people, goods, services, information and ideas across Colorado.”
This standard was narrow enough for some members and broad enough that others kept almost everyone at the table, and it resulted in detailed recommendations in five broad categories.
The first major category was transportation, which included investments in roads, rail, aviation, and mass transit. The second was water infrastructure, including drinking water systems, wastewater treatment facilities, and projects to restore and maintain the health of our rivers in Colorado.
The third big category was the environment, because our forests and our parks are not only aesthetic. They are major pieces of economic infrastructure, supporting the state’s outdoor and tourism industries. This category also included investments in the electricity grid to support the expansion of clean energy and to maintain our energy security.
The fourth major category was broadband internet infrastructure to support local commerce and communications, especially in rural areas and underserved urban communities in our state.
And finally, the fifth major category was the education infrastructure. After the enormous disruption of the pandemic, people have a new appreciation for schools, universities and other places where students go to learn – in person.
Transportation, water, the environment, broadband and education – these were the five pillars of the Colorado Infrastructure Committee’s recommendations. Within these five categories, the committee identified and recommended investments in Colorado that totaled between $ 16.95 billion and $ 20.25 billion.
That figure will be lower now, following the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act last year, which promises to eliminate a backlog of $ 574 million in deferred maintenance on roads, bridges, tunnels, etc. parking lots, visitor centers, trails, and campsites in Colorado. enable residents and tourists to access and enjoy our public lands.
But the Five Pillars – and more importantly, the collaborative process that produced them – could provide a way out of the endless argument about what should and shouldn’t be included in a national infrastructure package. And in dollar terms, an infrastructure package that invests between $ 17 billion and $ 20 billion in Colorado would have a national total of around $ 970 billion to $ 1.14 trillion, based on our share. State in the American population.
I don’t want to lessen the challenge before our federal officials in Washington. Assuming they can agree on the investments that should be included in an infrastructure bill, they must also agree on a way to pay for those investments.
But as Colorado business and civic leaders have shown, there is no need to endlessly discuss the definition of infrastructure. If our leaders are serious about reaching an agreement, there is a clear path to get there.
Simon Lomax is a researcher and advisor to free enterprise groups and business coalitions in the energy, health, education, housing and other economic sectors. He is a former Bloomberg News reporter and a former congressman of the American Political Science Association. The opinions expressed are his own.