Infrastructure
June 6, 2016
Can America’s roads, bridges and other systems be fixed?

The nation’s infrastructure is aging rapidly. Highways and bridges, particularly in older urban areas, are badly in need of repair, leading to safety concerns and traffic delays. Congress passed a $305 billion transportation package in December, but that is considered only enough to maintain the status quo. President Obama has proposed raising federal taxes on oil, but the idea lacks any Republican support. Most of this year’s presidential candidates have said they want to spend more on infrastructure, but few have specified how they would pay for their plans. States, which together spend more on infrastructure than the federal government, are resorting to creative budgeting to fill funding gaps. Meanwhile, the lead-poisoning crisis in the Flint, Mich., water system has drawn attention to funding shortfalls for drinking-water infrastructure.

At a February march in Flint, Mich., XyNazia Skinner, 7, holds a sign criticizing Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder for failing to take action sooner in the city’s water-contamination crisis. Snyder has apologized for the state’s efforts but also blamed the Obama administration. (Getty Images/Bill Pugliano)   At a February march in Flint, Mich., XyNazia Skinner, 7, holds a sign criticizing Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder for failing to take action sooner in the city’s water-contamination crisis. Snyder has apologized for the state’s efforts but also blamed the Obama administration. (Getty Images/Bill Pugliano)

Missouri has problems paying for its roads. The state has not raised its gasoline tax, the main funding source for road and bridge construction, in 24 years. As recently as 2009, the state had $1.3 billion in its transportation budget, thanks to a one-time bump in federal stimulus-package funding. But by next year, only $700 million will be available — enough for upkeep on its 33,000 miles of roads and bridges, but not enough to build any new structures or make significant improvements, according to the state Department of Transportation. Footnote 1

In response, the legislature this year considered raising the gas tax by 1.5 cents per gallon. That amount had the support of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, as well as traditional anti-tax groups such as the Missouri Club for Growth. Nevertheless, the proposal ran into opposition from Republicans worried about angering voters in an election year. House Speaker Todd Richardson contended the state should pay for its roads without raising taxes, perhaps by freeing up money devoted to health care programs or diverting funds from cigarette or sales taxes.

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