At the height of the economic depression in the 1930s, a grand plan to employ millions of unemployed workers was hatched called the “Great New Deal.” The New Deal brought about immediate economic relief to decrease unemployment, ushering in multi-year investment in our nation’s forest conservation and infrastructure. The Fort Peck Dam is a prime example of the shift from unemployment to productive employment building America’s infrastructure. Importantly, the immediate economic relief alleviated the depression and anxiety associated with unemployment. The new infrastructure helped sustain economic recovery and America’s long-term prosperity.
We can learn from history, and we don’t need to re-invent the wheel. Our infrastructure needs remain; neglect and underfunding have left America’s infrastructure crumbling. The lack of consistent funding has resulted in bridges closed to traffic, gaping holes in pavement, outdated and failing sewage treatment systems, and critical dam repairs left unattended. Now, with millions of Americans out of work due to COVID, and many businesses shuttering for good, an obvious bipartisan solution exists: rebuild America’s infrastructure.
Few initiatives can match the combination of immediate and long-term benefits of increased infrastructure investment. Transportation construction and maintenance work accounted for $610 billion in related business activity across all sectors of the economy in 2019 alone. Think about it: every construction worker has to eat, needs lodging, needs clothing, a car, and gasoline. Consumerism increases with full employment because employed families spend money in their communities supporting small businesses.
Montana has 380 bridges classified as structurally deficient. More than 1,000 bridges statewide need repair at an estimated cost of $707 million. It’s not just the everyday motoring public and tourists who need these critical infrastructure items; farmers and truckers need bridges and roads to transport their goods, which maintains interstate and international commerce. The House of Representatives recently approved a five-year highway and public transit investment bill. The Senate version was unanimously approved in committee in July 2019 but has languished in legislative purgatory ever since.
Enhancing unemployment benefits is a short-term Band-Aid on what is likely a gaping chest wound. Unemployment is not good for the American public or the economy. Depression and anxiety increase with idle hands rendered idle by circumstances entirely out of the American worker’s control.
An infrastructure investment package would jumpstart the nation’s long-term economic recovery. Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester would serve Montana well by negotiating the immediate passage of this bill. Part and parcel of being a Montanan is a strong work ethic; we deserve the opportunities infrastructure investment brings.
Tammi Fisher is an attorney and former mayor of Kalispell.
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