Column: Let's get Minnesota's economy moving
BUFFALO — As our state and country struggle to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting damage to our economy has become a major issue for all of us. The big question: when and how can we get more people back to work?
One strategy that officials of both parties agree on is to fund the repair of the public infrastructure that our economy relies on and that is in disrepair after too many years of neglect.
Minnesota’s roads, bridges and transit systems are critical for the delivery of needed supplies, for getting products to stores, for allowing farmers to get food to markets and for allowing people to get where they need to be, including accessing medical care. This fact has been recognized through orders keeping our transportation system open in the midst of the pandemic.
Our infrastructure will continue to be critical to our recovery after the worst of the health care crisis subsides. For too many years, investing in our transportation system has not been a priority. The system is aging, deteriorating and allowing too many injuries and too many fatalities. It needs to be repaired and updated for our future economic success.
Both Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump have said they want to see a strong federal investment in infrastructure as part of the plan to get the country back on its feet. This should be the centerpiece of a new economic stimulus package that is passed quickly. Congress needs to act just to keep current federal funds for transportation flowing to the states since the current authorization — the FAST Act — expires in September. With traffic volumes so low, the number of gallons of gas purchased has dropped significantly, along with the fuel tax needed to pay for highway repair.
At the state level, the clear answer to creating more jobs is passage of a major capital bonding bill that funds the repair of public infrastructure. This legislation needs to include substantial funding for roads and bridges that counties and cities are responsible for maintaining.
In the construction area, workers are continuing to do their jobs outside following safety protocols. We need to expand this work while getting our roads and bridges fixed and taking advantage of reduced traffic volumes to do the work safely. Our legislators need to act now to pass a strong bonding bill with projects that communities need to recover from this disaster.
Local governments are being hit hard with health care costs related to COVID-19. The state and federal governments need to pass bipartisan legislation that directs funding to repair work needed on our local streets, highways and bridges. This will take some of the burden off local taxpayers while getting more people to work. These workers will then spend more money in their local communities, supporting more jobs throughout the economy. It’s time to get Minnesota’s economy moving with strong state and federal funding for the transportation system our economy needs.
Michael Potter is a Wright County commissioner and president of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance.