Remarks Announcing Fixing the Fifth Infrastructure Repair Plan

May 01, 2017

Thank you very much Senator Loretta Weinberg and Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin.

Thank you finally to Larry Bauer of the Teaneck Chamber and Rick Sabato. Who has done an incredible job with the Trades. I don’t like to stand next to him; I make him look short. We see labor and business coming together to drive the economy with some of our great legislative leaders and mayors is the kind of event we should be doing to shine a light on important issues in our District. .

Business and labor together are the drivers of America’s middle class. An investment in infrastructure is an investment in jobs, both for nearby Teaneck businesses and for the men and women who will construct our great American infrastructure projects.

The headlines are nothing short of a horror film: “114-year old Bridge Collapses.” “NJ Bridge Collapses, Tanker Cars Releasing Toxic Gas.”

The facts are even more jarring.

We have 6,730 bridges in our state. 1,684 bridges, or twenty-five percent of them, are classified as functionally obsolete.

And of the twenty-five percent structurally deficient bridges that are most heavily traveled, more than a third, are here in Bergen County. That list includes three over Route 4 – and all three predate FDR’s election to the White House. More than 100,000 pass over the Teaneck Road overpass every day.

The bridge right behind me here is considered “structurally deficient,” meaning that one or more of the key bridge elements, such as the deck, superstructure or substructure, is considered to be in “poor” or worse condition.

These aren’t just statistics. We were all shocked and horrified last summer when a piece of concrete fell from a bridge in Texas and crushed a young girl whose family happened to be driving under the span.

As a father of young children, I just can’t imagine what that family has been through, especially given that it was a preventable disaster.

I’ve been told by several construction companies that crews regularly travel our roads, inspecting overpasses by literally poking at loose-looking sections of concrete with long poles.

No one should fear driving their children across or under a bridge that we know to be less than completely safe and up to date, especially in a state like ours where we pay so much in taxes, and living in a country on the cutting edge. Yet, millions cross over America’s bridges every day where the infrastructure is literally crumbling beneath them, with corroded steel and loose concrete.

Unfortunately, it’s not only the bridges. It’s also the rails, tunnels, dams, and roads.

Our state is second-in-the-nation, percentage-wise, of commuters who rely on public transit; yet, NJ Transit had more trains breakdowns last year than any other commuter railroad in America. And even when trains aren’t broken down, we can only get twenty-one trains in and out of the city in an hour, given that we only have one tunnel operating into New York City; that’s outrageous and no way to run an economy.

The American Society of Civil Engineers graded our infrastructure recently and gave our transit at D-. Our roads and bridges got a D+, and another study ranked our roads as the ninth worst in the entire nation.

No one likes spending their time sitting in traffic or on a broken-down train. The sorry state of our infrastructure means we’re having to leave for work earlier in the morning, getting home later in the evenings, and losing valuable time with our families.

But the condition of our infrastructure costs us not just in time, but in dollars, too. Our pothole-ridden roads here in New Jersey cost the average motorist $667 in repairs each year.

We can’t entice 21st Century companies to set up shop and grow or stay here in New Jersey with 20th Century infrastructure that’s been patched and repaired for decades when we know it needs replacing.

It’s one of the biggest reasons CEOs regularly tell me about why they’ve left or are considering leaving our state; they believe we’ve stopped investing in our infrastructure. Other states are luring them with their new, wider roads and shorter commuting times.

We can’t figure out how to build a new tunnel into New York City, upgrade our rails and make them safer, or build a new bus terminal, although madam tenacity, Senator Weinberg, may do it with her own bare hands.

We know these infrastructure investments lead to long-term GDP growth and are the key to drawing and keeping companies here. By failing to act and close the infrastructure investment gap, it’s estimated that our nation’s GDP will take a nearly 4 billion loss by 2025 and we will lose two and a half million jobs.

It was President Eisenhower who recognized how vital infrastructure is to our economy and security; it was his plan that built our interstate highway system.

It’s clear that we need to fix this problem. We can’t have a first-rate state with second-class infrastructure. And that starts here in our District.

Today, I’m happy to announce my “Fixing the Fifth” Infrastructure Repair Plan. It’s fact-driven and bipartisan.

First, since you can’t solve a problem without knowing all the facts, I’m sending a letter today to the New Jersey Department of Transportation to request an immediate itemization of the sub-standard infrastructure in our District – including the bridges, roads, rails, and dams — as well as what it would cost to fix them and the reason for delays in making those repairs.

I’d also like to understand the average time it takes in the Fifth District to repair a mile of road or fix a foot of a bridge.

All too often, bureaucracy creates delays and hurdles in making the fixes and improvements we need and we should understand what we might do to streamline the process.

When fifteen regulatory and planning bodies need to review the results of fourteen different studies to patch a sidewalk, government can create more problems than it solves. We built the entire interstate highway system in thirty years; it shouldn’t take us that long to repair this bridge.

Second, I am working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to spur the infusion of infrastructure investment our nation needs, without raising taxes.

I’m sure that you’ve all read that many of us in Washington are working hard on comprehensive tax reform to get our rates down across the board.

As co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, I’ve been working around-the-clock with both parties since I was sworn in to make living here more affordable.

I believe that infrastructure investment must be part of any tax reform package.

Here’s how the infrastructure part of that plan would work: Because our corporate tax rates in the US are the highest in the developed world – 35 percent – many of our businesses keep their foreign profits overseas, because the rates are lower there.

In fact, the top fifty U.S. companies now have more than $2.2 trillion dollars in cash parked overseas.

So, I recently introduced a bill – The Partnership to Build America Act — that would give a one-time lower rate, as part of our overall tax reform, to get those dollars back home, so we can invest the revenue into our roads, rails, tunnels and bridges.

My legislation creates an infrastructure bank, called the American Infrastructure Fund, where local governments would apply to receive support for their projects.

A percentage of the projects would need to be public-private partnerships, through loans and guarantees, so that we get a multiplier effect and ensure that everyone has some skin in the game to bring our infrastructure up to speed.

This is an approach that everyone from labor to business to local governments can get behind. And it does it without raising taxes one dime. It’s not a Democratic or Republican plan; it’s a win-win, good for the Fifth District plan, good for New Jersey plan, and, of course, good for the U.S. plan.

The key here is pairing infrastructure and tax reform, so that we have broad based growth without short-changing our future.

I reviewed the Administration’s tax reform outline – the few details they’ve released to date — and while I appreciate that plan’s move to lower tax rates, I think it’s a missed opportunity to leave out infrastructure. President Trump has even said that infrastructure is a “golden opportunity for accelerated economic growth and rapid productivity gains.” I agree.

Given how difficult it is to get anything through this Congress, this is our opportunity to lower taxes and fix our bridges, tunnels, rails and roads, without increasing taxes.

We should be thinking short and long term GDP growth – and about infrastructure 2.0 – how we will live and work in the coming years—autonomous vehicles, drones, you name it. How will it all work together?

When you read about what President Reagan and Speak O’Neil accomplished with their tax reform plan in 1986, one thing is clear to me – it’s not just about fixing the code, lowering rates, and eliminating loopholes, it’s how you do it.

Just like you can’t give big giveaways to one industry or another, you can’t deliver big windfalls to one state over another. For example, in a state like New Jersey, or New York, California, or Connecticut, where we pay sky-high state and local taxes, eliminating the deduction for state and local taxes would be an economic disaster.

It would likely cost the average taxpayer $3,500 a year extra in higher taxes, forcing people and businesses out of our state. That would be just more money to the moocher states–and another hit to New Jersey and to my District.

My point is that Tweets are nice, but details matter, and I won’t allow a plan that robs Peter to pay Paul.

Third and finally, we know that infrastructure investment is good for jobs and short- and long-term economic growth.

Not only does infrastructure create good-paying jobs for construction workers, engineers, and others directly involved in those projects – and, mind you, we have the best labor trades in America right here – but it also creates long-term growth.

Higher quality infrastructure will help the economy as a whole operate more efficiently–cars and trucks will spend less time idling in traffic, trains will break down less frequently, commuters and products will be able to get where they need to go more quickly and companies and jobs will come here, stay here, and grow here.

Studies show that public investment in infrastructure leads to productivity growth in the private sector. According to the Congressional Budget Office, a dollar in infrastructure can have as much as a $2.50 impact on our GDP. Talk about a return on investment.

When it comes to infrastructure, our competitors on the international stage know this and are beating us. Europe spends almost double what we currently do as a portion of GDP, and China spends three times as much.

If a company is deciding where to put a new plant, it’s hard to make the case that they should build where they’ll pay sky-high taxes and have to deal with the frustrations of our bureaucracy and an out-of-date and under-resourced infrastructure network.

If we make these necessary infrastructure improvements here in New Jersey, we will have the competitive advantage and entice more companies to come, not just to our country, but to our state and do business with us.

I intend to continue working with Democrats, Republicans, and whoever will sit down at the table, to find common-sense solutions to improve our roads, tunnels, bridges, and rails – and ensure there are far fewer structurally deficient bridges, like the one behind me, in the future.

Thank you and may God bless America.


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