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Commentary: Trump wants infrastructure. Build us up with Public Works

Infrastructure is the physical foundation of civilization — and ours is in dire need of rebuilding. Our bridges are crumbling, our roads are full of holes, our electric grid is stressed. I have a plan that will not only solve our infrastructure woes, but will also deliver a tremendous economic boom for all Americans: revive the Public Works Administration and task it with infrastructure modernization. Think of it as a long overdue investment that promises to revitalize all facets of our country.

The American Society of Civil Engineers recently graded our current infrastructure a D plus. It’s estimated that over $4 trillion of work is needed to upgrade to modern standards, including broadband access for rural areas and renewable energy infrastructure.

COMMENTARY: How Texas makes it hard for itself to build infrastructure.

President Donald Trump has proposed a public-private partnership, but this plan would cede ownership of our infrastructure to for-profit corporations, which would charge high fees and tolls for its use in order to turn a profit. His plan would put a cronyistic middleman between America and progress. Such middleman-profiteering leads to increased costs for consumers, like in Chicago, where privatization of downtown parking meters led to a doubling of rates.

Instead, the federal government should oversee the project similar to the public works programs administered through FDR’s New Deal. It’s time to revive the Public Works Administration. There are enough potential jobs that the government could guarantee employment to everyone for the foreseeable future. These jobs will be competitive because the pay will start at the universal living wage of $15 per hour, with benefits that include full health coverage, paid family and sick leave and paid vacations.

The projects will vary depending on each locality’s needs, and local agencies can partner with schools to develop training programs that teach workers the skills needed for the infrastructure projects. For example, in the Hill Country, there’s a need for broadband cable lines and solar farms, while at the Port of Savannah in Georgia, navigation channels need to be deepened to accommodate larger ships.

COMMENTARY: Why Trump’s infrastructure plan is a hard sell for Texas.

Developing a nationwide renewable-energy infrastructure is necessary to combat the potential catastrophic effects of global warming — and the type of renewable energy depends on each region’s unique advantages: solar in Central Texas, wind in West Texas, hydroelectric on the coasts, and geothermal in volcanic areas. The Department of Energy could assist in developing a plan that efficiently integrates these renewable power sources into the national electric grid. There’s also a need for a mass transit system connecting major cities, and federal oversight would help implement uniform interstate standards.

The investment in these infrastructure projects will pay immediate dividends throughout society. The increased number of job opportunities means there will be increased labor demand. The ensuing competition for labor among potential employers — in both the public and private sectors — will lead to higher wages and better working conditions across the economy. Studies show that people are in better mental and physical health when they’re employed at meaningful jobs. These jobs will certainly be meaningful because they’ll build up America.

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Higher wages and full employment create a reverberating positive impact on the economy, as consumers can afford more goods and services, further spurring economic growth. Because people will have higher incomes; the government will recoup its initial investment through increased tax revenue; and the number of Americans qualifying for government benefits would shrink. Let’s not forget that we all benefit from the wonderful improvements in our infrastructure.

We can’t just settle for a “better deal,” especially since the extremely low bar set by the current administration makes almost anything “better.” If we want to reinvigorate our nation and reimagine the potential of our people, then America deserves a bold new deal. Build us up.

Perri is a Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress in District 21. He lives in Austin.

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