Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump don’t agree on much of anything, but there is one area where they have a meeting of the minds: they both want to spend way more on public works programs. Hillary Clinton says that her primary jobs stimulus will be a massive $275 billion-plus infrastructure spending binge.
Donald Trump one-upped Hillary last week promising to spend twice that amount. He says the money is necessary because of crumbling roads and “bridges that are falling down.”
It’s a rare source of agreement, so wouldn’t you know it: they’re both wrong.
If our infrastructure is crumbling, it surely isn’t because the federal government is spending too little money. Public works projects were supposed to be the centerpiece of the Obama $830 billion stimulus bill. We were promised “shovel-ready” jobs. Remember that? But job growth has remained abysmal for seven years. So what happened to all that money? No one in Washington wants to ask or answer.
We now know a lot of the money didn’t even get spent on public works, but got intercepted for projects like the now-bankrupt Solyndra solar energy company and more still for food stamps and welfare programs. Some of President Obama’s spending went to build big white elephants like the $70 billion California high speed rail train from and to nowhere, or low-return investments such as the Washington Metro silver line with at least five cost overruns and almost no riders.
Over Mr. Obama’s presidency, Washington has spent nearly $1 trillion on infrastructure. As the chart shows, this was more money than any other president in history has spent. Amazingly, it cost about $250 billion to build the interstate highway system. Mr. Obama has spent at least three times more than that and we still have what more pot holes in America than jobs.
Yet here we are with Hillary arguing for bigger deficits and more public works projects as the engine for growth revival. (At least, Mr. Trump has a way to pay for infrastructure: he would allow companies to repatriate capital from abroad at a low tax rate and use the money raised to fix bridges and roads. He would also let an independent commission rather than politicians decide what projects should get funded.) The road builders, unions, municipal bond traders are drooling at the idea of all this money.
Davis Bacon rules make sure that nearly every penny goes to inflated union wages. For every three bridges we build, we could fix a fourth one for free just by jettisoning these costly regulatory hurdles. While Mr. Trump wants to deregulate to get more bang for our buck, Hillary is too beholden to special interests to allow that.
We also need to spend our federal infrastructure dollars on projects that make sense. The real transportation scandal is that Congress keeps stealing almost 20 cents of every dollar from gas taxes, paid by motorists, to pay for transit projects that carry less than 5 percent of all commuters — except for a few cities like New York. Congress keeps building mass transit trains even though in a decade or so bus and rail systems will go the way of rotary phones. Driverless-cars and smart road/traffic light technologies will personalize transportation and enable cheap and speedy door to door delivery.
Most liberals I know hate cars and think, as Al Gore does, that the combustible engine in the automobile is going to burn up the planet. So why would we expect the same people who want to get motorists off the roads and into buses and on bicycles to fix the highways? I remember reading once from a prominent leftist thinker than traffic jams are good because they are the ultimate sign of democracy and fairness. They waste time for everyone and make us all equally miserable.
Hillary is the ultimate hypocrite on infrastructure because for the entire time she was secretary of State she postponed the building of the Keystone XL (Hillary opposes it) that would make oil and gas transportation cleaner and safer, create about 10,000 high paying jobs, and would not cost taxpayers a dime.
Nearly a dozen other cross-country pipelines have been blocked by the Obama-Clinton regulators, according to The Wall Street Journal. But Hillary is in the hip pocket of the radical greens who hate fossil fuels, so she is unlikely to approve any of them. We’ve spent $150 billion subsidizing green energy, but the oil and gas industry, which pays taxes, rather than consumes them, can’t get approval for its infrastructure projects. We also need liquefied gas terminals and refineries in America — but the government won’t those get built either.
The real infrastructure crisis in America is private infrastructure. Computers. Factories. Plants. Forklifts. Trucks. Warehouses. Businesses aren’t buying them because they are bleak about the future. Business spending over the past year is negative. Partly that’s because Mr. Obama has raised taxes on business investment. Hillary wants to raise the tax on private infrastructure financing again to as high as 45 percent. Donald Trump wants to cut those taxes to 15 percent. I wonder which will lead to more funding for bricks and mortar.
Amazing: Mr. Obama has spent more than any other president, he has borrowed $8 trillion, he has promised millions of jobs and yet after all of this, his own Transportation secretary has called America “one giant pot hole.” Now we’re supposed to forget all this and do it all over again.
• Stephen Moore is an economic consultant with Freedom Works.