By Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.) - 02/29/12 02:12 AM EST
Our country has been struggling through a severe economic downturn for four years now. We constantly hear from both sides of the aisle about the need for “JOBS, JOBS, JOBS,” but very few leaders seem willing to offer specific solutions. There continues to be a disconnect between politics and reality.
Instead of more messaging pieces intended to push our country in one ideological direction or another, we need a plan that actually creates jobs, period. In order to achieve long-lasting economic growth in the United States, this jobs plan must focus on three primary areas: infrastructure investment, regulatory reform and a revolving loan fund that will give states greater access to capital for local projects.
$250 billion investment in infrastructure
I remember all too well the 2008 collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minnesota, which killed 13 people and injured another 145. Many thought this would be a wake-up call, yet we still haven’t had a major investment in infrastructure. A new transportation bill is long overdue, but Congress has been unable to pass new legislation since 2005. This is simply unacceptable.
Up-to-date infrastructure is critical to our nation’s progress and economic success. I recommend we make a major upfront investment of $250 billion in repairing the roads, bridges, sewers, industrial parks and pipelines that will propel our economy forward. Further, we need to make infrastructure investments that will both create jobs and boost our economic development. This is why I support projects like the Keystone XL oil pipeline and California’s high-speed rail project.
In our nation’s history, tough times have led to bold and innovative solutions. We are the country that built a transcontinental railroad and an interstate highway system, employing millions of workers and changing the course of our history. We need to regain the confidence to act boldly and build our future.
We need to recapture the American “can-do” spirit. As a former small-business owner, I have seen how burdensome regulations can strangle entrepreneurship and drive up the cost of running a business. New projects that should require one or two permits instead require dozens and take years to attain the needed environmental clearances. We need a more efficient process where city, county and federal governments work together to streamline their permitting requirements, so new projects can get off the ground quickly. Looking back, if we had today’s regulatory scheme during World War II, we would still be building the Pentagon!
For example, California and several other states have their own environmental protection laws that are functionally equivalent to the federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The duplicative federal review provides minimal additional environmental protection and ultimately is only a costly drain on resources and time. I recommend we streamline the federal NEPA review process so that projects that meet equivalent state environmental protection laws — such as California’s stringent California Environmental Quality Act and others — are deemed to meet the requirements of NEPA.
Revolving loan fund to free up capital for states
As our state and local governments have been hit hard by the recession, budgetary constraints have crippled economic development and cost millions of jobs. In order to reverse this trend and allow for greater innovation by states, I advocate for the creation of a $350 billion revolving loan fund. This fund would allow state governments to borrow from the Federal Reserve at the same super-low rate we loan money to banks and invest in major infrastructure projects. Under this plan, states would be required to match their federal loans with funding from private bonds. They would also have to repay the loans within a certain timeframe or forfeit their access to future loans. States would be able to borrow based in proportion to the size of their population.
Far from creating one-size-fits-all federal programs, under my plan, states will be able set their own priorities for these loans. General federal guidelines would require that the funds be used for infrastructure projects, but states would have the flexibility to tailor their programs to their specific needs, rather than at the discretion of a Washington bureaucrat.
We are at a pivotal moment in our nation’s history where we can either act boldly and turn our challenges into opportunities for dynamic growth, or continue to shy away from innovative solutions and slog through a tepid recovery. I believe it is time once again for America to think big and take our next giant leap forward in history.
— Cardoza is a member of the House Agriculture and Foreign Affairs committees.