Time to invest in our water infrastructure

I’m not sure if the House Republican leadership understands that we are moving in the wrong direction. A disappointing jobs report from the U.S. Department of Labor last Friday indicated that despite 54,000 private-sector jobs created last month, the unemployment rate increased a tenth of a percent. 

This sour economic news is the direct result of the majority’s failure to pass job-creating legislation. They are risking the economic progress that had been accomplished since January 2009 because they simply do not understand that hardball partisanship not only polarizes a nation, it paralyzes it. 

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We must start to work toward the singular goal of job creation, and this can only be achieved through pragmatic bipartisanship. The nation simply cannot afford to waste any more time on legislation that amounts to little more than political posturing. 

While this ideological battle plays itself out in public, dominating the headlines, it’s not surprising that many Americans are hardly aware of the substantive, bipartisan job-creation ideas that are coming from many corners of the House membership.

A perfect example is the Sustainable Water Investment and Infrastructure Act of 2011, H.R. 1802, which I introduced in partnership with Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky.) in May. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) teamed up with Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) to introduce the bill in the Senate.

This legislation is aimed at tapping the jobs that are waiting to be created beneath our feet by encouraging private investment dollars — instead of tax dollars — to help fund critical water infrastructure upgrades. 

Our nation’s deteriorating water systems get our attention every time a water main breaks and disrupts our lives, but we soon forget about them. Out of sight, out of mind. But what might be surprising is how much they cost us every day as we lose 25 percent of our treated water through cracks and leaks in our water systems. 

Upgrading our water infrastructure is a job that needs to get done, and there are people willing and able to do it. The question is whether we have the political will to stop wasting water and put people to work without significantly burdening taxpayers and water customers.

This legislation employs a new type of innovative financing — private activity bonds — that uses private-public partnerships to invest in both jobs and sorely needed infrastructure upgrades. It would foster tax-exempt private financing for water infrastructure projects, costing, in the legislation’s first 10 years, $354 million in uncollected tax revenues.

Some might try to peg this as “spending.” I disagree. Private activity bonds are a public investment in our economy that will leverage a projected $50 billion in private investment to jumpstart water projects, and 1.4 million jobs — 28,500 in the legislation’s first year — according to the Clean Water Council.

Best of all, these family-wage construction jobs would not be created through “make work” projects. This is work that needs to be done. Pick up a newspaper in any American city and there’s a good chance you’ll find a story about a company’s job cuts or a community’s water main break — maybe both. That is why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Conference of Mayors, the International Union of Operating Engineers and more than 60 other organizations, from labor to business, support this legislation.

The Republican leadership has failed to understand the difference between government spending and government investment. Even during these challenging economic times, we must continue to make the critical investments that will lead to future prosperity for our country, our infrastructure, a clean energy economy and our children’s education.

It’s time for Congress to recognize that we have a commitment to all Americans. The more we work in a bipartisan, constructive manner, the sooner we will help restore the United States’s economic power and get more Americans back to work.

Pascrell is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.