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States must lead on infrastructure

Posted on August 11, 2017

While Congress is under pressure to produce a comprehensive infrastructure bill – one of the few ideas that could gain bipartisan support on Capitol Hill – actions at the state level are far more likely to impact the roads and bridges people use every day. States own more than 90 percent of non-defense public infrastructure and pay 75 percent of the cost of maintaining and improving it, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Federal infrastructure investment has been cut in half over the last 35 years, and there’s no guarantee things will improve:

Notably, President Trump’s infrastructure proposal seems to omit many important areas of need. The plan in the President’s proposed 2018 budget consists of tax credits to private-sector investors, which would boost investment in projects that will generate revenue like tolls or user fees (such as new roads and bridges) but leave out maintenance of existing roads, bridges, and water lines, and construction of public schools and many public transit projects. Also, less profitable projects like roads in rural areas likely wouldn’t attract private investment even with new tax credits.

State-level gasoline taxes are the key source of funding for road construction, and more than half the states have raised their gas tax since 2013. Louisiana’s gas tax remains unchanged since 1990 after the Legislature shelved a plan to raise it during the 2017 session. This, despite Louisiana receiving a D+ score from the American Society of Civil Engineer’s 2017 report card and broad support for a tax from 20 industry and economic development groups.   

 

Going to the people

After two years of having his tax-reform proposals mostly ignored by the Legislature, Gov. John Bel Edwards is taking his case to the public. As the AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports, the governor met with business leaders this week while Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne is on the speaking circuit to let people know about the dangers of ignoring the $1.2 billion fiscal cliff.  

“If the public appetite is for no replacement revenue, then let them say, ‘Don’t raise any taxes, cut the billion dollars.’ And then we’ll start closing things and see what happens then,” Dardenne said Wednesday after his speech to a local Rotary Club. “We won’t have any other choice. It’s not what we want to do obviously. We want to find acceptable revenue measures.”

The strongest opposition to reform has come from the House, where a new bipartisan group of lawmakers is coming together in an effort to find a middle ground. Jeremy Alford of LaPolitics reports in his subscription-only newsletter that the “Centrist Caucus” is being led by Minden Rep. Gene Reynolds, a Democrat, and Republicans Rob Shadoin of Ruston and Julie Stokes of Kenner.

“The goal is to come up with a package of bills and try to have 70 or 71 votes in place,” said Rep. Gene Reynolds, the chair of the Democratic Caucus and the man charged with holding the party line as the minority leader. “There’s an urgency now that wasn’t there before. This is doable.”“We can’t keep having special sessions and a regular session each year with a lot of activity and no productivity,” said Shadoin. She [Stokes] was actually looking to establish a coalition of centrists when she heard about Shadoin’s efforts. “I’m trying to repurpose the work that I had put into the campaign into a new caucus of problem-solvers in the House,” Stokes said via text this morning.

 

Insurance uncertainty

There is fear, concern and uncertainty in the health insurance industry as the critical month of September quickly approaches. The contracts for organizations that help people enroll in health insurance through the Affordable Act are year-to-year,  and the Trump administration can end them when they expire early next month. Insurers must also decide by late September whether they will participate in the federal exchange – and that decision could hinge on whether the federal government continues to pay the Cost Sharing Reductions (CSRs) that keep coverage affordable for low-income families. Michelle Hackman of the Wall Street Journal reports:

“This is a sort of death by a thousand cuts,” said Brendan Riley, a health policy analyst with the North Carolina Justice Center, an anti-poverty group. “It seems pretty clear the administration is trying to undermine enrollment in order to destabilize the individual market and score political points.”“People are very misinformed,” said Martha Alvarez, a hospital-based navigator with Jackson Health System in Miami. “People think the Affordable Care Act is already gone, and we have to let them know that it’s not.”

 

A crucial vote

With the Affordable Care Act safe, for now, columnist Robert Mann looks back at the crucial December 2009 U.S. Senate vote that helped the bill become law. Louisiana’s then-senior U.S. Senator, Mary Landrieu, cast the deciding vote, which has helped bring coverage to more than 500,000 Louisianans.

She knew the voters who sent her to Washington three times might reject her for supporting Obama’s health care program. “It was a very difficult vote,” Landrieu told me by phone from Washington on Wednesday. If you were Landrieu in 2009, wondering what might increase your reelection chances, opposing Obamacare would have been a reasonable bet. “I knew that could be a career-ending vote,” she said. “It’s not that I doubted it was the right vote, but I knew the storm of disinformation” would blow long after Obama signed the bill and throughout its implementation.

 

Number of the Day

$4.6 trillion –  Estimated cost of bringing America’s infrastructure to a state of good repair (a grade of B) by 2025. (Source: American Society of Civil Engineers)

 

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