Roads vs. Defense

We all want to live in a spiffy home. We make sure our fire alarms, back up sump pump batteries, and our security systems all work. We have regular maintenance cycles for our furnace, air conditioning, and appliances. We even know approximately when we should replace our roof or redo our driveways. It’s about maintaining a safe and livable home. It’s about taking pride. It’s about ownership. 

As a nation, we prioritize spending money on state of the art security. Our defense budget is massive and keeps growing. No one questions that there is value in maintaining American safety abroad and at home. It is understood that our tax dollars should fund that security that makes America one of the best countries to live in. 

We rarely hear much concern in passing the defense Budget. Last year’s annual budget was $715B, an increase of $10B over 2021’s budget. Learn more about the defense budget here.

But when we consider infrastructure funding, the conversations about spending and taxing are so much different. Transportation and infrastructure drive our domestic economy. If we don’t have secure, modernized, and well-maintained infrastructure, our economy stagnates and we cannot grow as a nation. Yet the intrinsic value of infrastructure spending is debated and poorly understood.  

We have finally passed legislation authorizing more than a trillion dollars for infrastructure spending. Let me remind you that this money is to be used over a period of five years. It came at a time when the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) was practically depleted and something needed to happen. At the local level, many states repealed the local gas tax and had it indexed. While the federal funds have not flowed down to the states, Governors are already talking about freezing local gas tax increases they agreed to not too long ago. 

Let’s not forget how the HTF is funded. The vast majority of funding comes from the gas tax. Well maintained and modernized infrastructure is key to national security. We need to be safe and cared for at home. When we tie funding for crucial improvements to what can be a political hot potato, we are undermining ourselves. 

  • Safety and security of our nation’s infrastructure should not be a side bar we think of every time the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) is about to run out of money. Get more information on the HTF here.

People need to understand when a bridge earns a “D” rating, it’s bad. It means people can die. We need to build an understanding around the intrinsic value of safe, modern infrastructure. I know we can all agree that we want a strong economy with plentiful jobs. As a nation, we need to rebuild and take back our pride in the amazing highway and infrastructure that was built post World War II. We can do it if we just change our attitude.

Annual Revenues, Outlays, and Balance of the Highway Trust Fund in CBO’s February 2021 Baseline Projections

Graph featuring Annual Revenues, Outlays, and Balance of the Highway Trust Fund in CBO’s February 2021 Baseline Projections