Investment in infrastructure is coming at just the right time for America. Thanks to the leadership of President Trump, Washington is positioning itself to take long-overdue action on infrastructure. As the president and Congress work to assemble a package, their approach will be important.
Over the past year, the Trump administration has listened to states while developing policy proposals. I was honored to be one of a handful of governors who joined numerous other state officials at the White House as the president unveiled his framework for rebuilding America’s infrastructure.
As Washington works to pull together legislation, states have best practices and lessons to share.
In Nebraska, we have successfully invested in a 21st century system that not only supports our state but the whole nation. It’s key to growing our top three industries: agriculture, manufacturing and tourism. And Nebraska’s I-80 and highway system connects the East Coast and the West Coast with the Heartland and important trading points with our state expressway system.
Over the years, Nebraska has consciously positioned itself as a leader in transportation and infrastructure. We’ve taken historic steps to invest in and maintain our roads, bridges and expressways. In 2011, our Legislature passed Sen. Deb Fischer’s Build Nebraska Act (BNA). The BNA designated a percentage of the existing general state sales tax for investment in state infrastructure. This investment has already helped us complete key pieces of our state’s expressway system.
The BNA works hand-in-hand with another piece of major legislation, the Transportation Innovation Act (TIA), which I helped champion in 2016. The TIA designated additional funding and created new engineering tools to manage and grow Nebraska’s infrastructure. With these pieces of legislation in place, Nebraska is on track to complete our 600-mile expressway system by 2033 and to repair and replace numerous bridges across our state. The County Bridge Match Program and the Economic Opportunity Program created by the TIA incentivize government and the private sector to find innovative and cost-effective ways to modernize transportation in our communities. The TIA also cuts red tape by allowing for alternative contracting methods. The “design-build” construction process saves taxpayer funds and accelerates delivery of the state’s most complex projects.
Nebraska is already seeing benefits from BNA and TIA, which are expected to generate $1.6 billion over a 20-year period. These infrastructure investments are part of the reason why Nebraska’s highway system was recently ranked as the fourth best in the United States by the Reason Foundation.
Neither of these initiatives would have been possible without strong partnerships with state and local officials. As we have developed and implemented them, we’ve listened to the people and experts closest to our infrastructure challenges and opportunities across the state.
As the Trump administration and Congress engage states and develop their plans, I encourage them to consider a few principles:
•Incentivize creativity: States should be challenged to present project packages that utilize innovation to creatively address infrastructure needs, reduce future maintenance costs and leverage economies of scale that bring down project costs.
•Empower states: As governor of a rural state, I am encouraged by the administration’s approach to utilize block grants to allow states to make decisions on how best to address infrastructure needs without federal strings.
•Leverage existing funding: As the federal government incentivizes states to invest locally, they should ensure that they “look back” and credit states, like Nebraska, who have and continue to make major investments in infrastructure.
•Cut red tape: President Trump’s commitment to cutting red tape has the potential to reduce project delivery time and save taxpayer dollars. States should be provided with opportunities to assume federal responsibilities — and be encouraged to streamline permitting and approvals processes to accelerate project delivery.
•No tax hikes: Sen. Deb Fischer’s Build Nebraska Act is a model for making major infrastructure investments using existing revenue. As Congress works to fund the package, they should utilize existing sources of revenue instead of raising taxes on hardworking families.
President Trump’s focus on addressing the country’s infrastructure needs will help move us forward. While decisions about investment will ultimately be made in Washington, the impacts will be experienced in the states. As Congress works with the president, I urge them to adopt his approach and to ensure that the voices of states are heard. The time for Congress to act is now. By investing in infrastructure, we will be investing in the future of our economy and our country.
• Gov. Pete Ricketts is Nebraska’s 40th governor.
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