Big Ideas for Jobs
State/Federal Employment and Tax Policy
Jobs Idea #4Infrastructure Investment
America’s physical infrastructure is in poor conditionor obsolete. Investment yields returns in terms of theefficiency, equity and sustainability of places, andalso has immediate and longer-term employmentbenefits. But there is little will to upgrade infrastruc- ture, uneven local public capacity to manage im-provements and institutional barriers to making public investments.
What’s the Big Idea?
Private involvement in infrastructure projects canprovide speed, competence and a welcome disrup- tion from the existing models of infrastructurefinance. The idea is to use private capital in infra-structure projects, under public guidance and per-formance terms. Projects will function essentially aspublic utilities, paying for private capital by putting amonetary value on infrastructure’s direct service andnetworked “externalities” and charging its costs tobeneficiaries of both.To achieve this, it will be necessary to build new insti- tutions and strengthen the capacity of local govern-ment to enable such projects, meaning first, thecapacity to initiate, design, bargain over, monitor andenforce the terms of infrastructure projects combin-ing different types of capital and revenue streams,and second, the capacity to enlist publicacceptance of these projects on transparent terms.Finally, to capitalize on private involvement, we willneed to remove dysfunctional restrictions on stateand local governments and instead reward compe- tence and accountability.
How Does This Create Jobs?
Infrastructure projects create jobs both through thedirect or indirect labor required for their production(and the “induced” jobs from labor’s later spending of income from that) and through the increased eco-nomic activity they enable. The first results from aproject’s labor intensity and depends on deliveryspeed (e.g. ARRA-funded mass transit investmentsgenerated twice as many direct jobs-per-dollar ashighway projects both because they were more laborintensive and more “shovel-ready”). Job creation viaeconomic impact may be much bigger. Constructionof the Interstate Highway system, for example, gener-ated many jobs, but more importantly stimulatedmajor economic activity. Though place-based infra-structure investments may simply shift job activityfrom one location to another, they also createeconomies of scope and agglomeration that maygenerate compensating job growth. A recent exampleof both is the Twin Cities Hiawatha Light Rail Line,completed in the early 2000s. Employment growthalong the line has been twice that of the greatermetro area, while household costs-of-living in themost efficient transit zones have been 5 to 10 per-cent lower than the regional average.
The idea is to use private capitalin infrastructure projects, underpublic guidance and performanceterms. Projects will function essen-tially as public utilities, paying forprivate capital by putting a mone-tary value on infrastructure’s directservice and networked “externali-ties” and charging its costs tobeneficiaries of both
Scott Bernstein, Center for Neighborhood Technologyand Joel Rogers, Center on Wisconsin Strategy