By Dale Bowling
Last night was the Democratic Party of DuPage County's annual Gala and it was quite a show. Many of you were there and know what I am talking about. Speakers included Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, Congressman Bill Foster, Congressman Mike Quigley, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Illinois Lt. Gov Sheila Simon, Illinois Governor and DuPage County native Pat Quinn and lastly Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. Every one of these speakers deserved and received a standing ovation. It was awesome!
Gov. Rendell's new book is called A Nation of Wusses: How America's Leaders Lost the Guts to Make Us Great. The theme of the book is that America got where it is by dreaming big and working hard to make that dream a reality, but somewhere along the way our leaders have lost some of that and we as the American people need to "demand courage" from our leaders to think big and do big things.
Rendell gave Governor Quinn high marks for boldness. When referring to the $31 Billion in infrastructure improvements here in Illinois signed by our governor, Rendell said that Pat Quinn "understands you can't build a decent country without building". And he's so right.
Rendell made the point that since Quinn became Governor unemployment as dropped three percentage points. And this is understandable. Among the many things that Quinn's administration has done to fix the economy, infrastructure improvements particularly create jobs. Here's a fact from the US Chamber of Commerce, "Over two years, one dollar spent on infrastructure construction produces roughly twice as much ($1.92) in direct and indirect economic output."
And the really cool thing is that it's not just a make-work program. In the end, we get state-of-the-art roads, bridges, sewer, electrical grids, airports, seaports, dams, rail, etc. And these help propel the economy of the 21st century.
Let's give an example that Ed Rendell used last night, air-traffic control. He said, while other developed countries are moving to the next generation of air-traffic control based on satellite technology, we're still using radar to place where planes are and making adjustments accordingly. You may say, yeah well that's been good enough so far, but the startling fact is that "each year, Americans lose more than $9 billion in productivity from flight delays.", according to the Port Authority of NY's/NJ's Flight Delay Task Force Report.
And even more shocking is that if the sequester goes forward this month, the Federal Aviation Administration is set to furlough 10% of its staff over the next year. That would mean a decrease in up to 1,200 air-traffic controllers. What will that do for flight delays? What will the losses in productivity be as a result?
The question is not, how can we afford to invest in America when times are so tight, the real question is how can we afford not to invest in America right now?
And this is furthered by the issue of international competition. We've dropped from having the best infrastructure in the world to being 23th. We're trillions of dollars behind in repairs and new construction. The US spends just 2% of its GDP on infrastructure compared to Europe which spends 5% and China which spends 9% of its GDP on roads, bridges, trains, ports, technology, etc. Rendell mentioned that last year an unprecedented 50% of patents awarded by the US Patent office were given to foreign nationals or foreign companies. The US will lose the Innovation War to Europe, China and the developing world if we don't do some nation building here at home.
We already have a problem with our jobs being off shored to other countries. Why would we make it harder for jobs to stay in the US, by allowing a crumbling infrastructure to make doing business here in America more difficult and less profitable?
No sensible person would buy an expensive house and let the roof cave in because they didn't like spending money. No corporation would say, "we're not going to invest in our operation" and expect to stay competitive. This is penny wise and pound foolish.
Tomorrow is President Obama's annual State of the Union address. Gov. Rendell said, he expects some sort of infrastructure initiative to be announced during the speech. Let's hope he's right and the President is able to make the case to American people about the urgency of investment in our Country. History is littered with the corpses of missed opportunities. This shouldn't be one of them.