An aging and failing infrastructure system has been a top priority for many ag groups for years. The district Congressman Ron Kind (D-WI) serves includes more miles of the Mississippi River than any other congressional district. As such, he co-chairs the Mississippi River Bi-Partisan Caucus and is one of several lawmakers pushing for infrastructure reform.
“One of our main points of emphasis is that the water infrastructure system lock and dam system is so crucial to moving commerce up and down the river, especially our agricultural products destined for export markets,” he told AgriTalk host Chip Flory. “So hopefully we can step up.”
According to Kind, the House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing about how to finance an infrastructure bill moving forward.
“I raised the point that we need to include water infrastructure bill as well because it's a vital part of American commerce,” he said. “I kind of feel sorry for the Corps of Engineers. They were asked to do more with less. They've had bubble gum and some paper to keep a lock and dam system that was built during the 1930s up and fully functioning.”
One dam failure on the Mississippi would not only back up commerce for weeks, but would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, Kind said.
“We know we're long past due, Chip, for reinvesting in rebuilding America again,” he said. “Broadband in rural areas need to be a part of it, that’s important for production agriculture. Water ways, all the roads and highways and bridges, we need to do this to stay competitive.”
How will it be paid for?
Paying for infrastructure repair and reform is the limiting factor.
“It's easy for everyone to identify the need to invest in infrastructure. The hard part is how to pay for it,” he said. “That's what always trips us up. So, we're trying to throw out ideas to see if there's some consensus out there on what type of sustainable revenue source makes sense, so we can move forward with this investment.”
One idea is a tax on traders. Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR), the chair of House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee has had the idea for some time, and Kind said he's not alone. The tax would be a minimum transaction fee for high-speed traders and regular stock traders alike.
“We haven't had a hearing on it and we haven't had a lot of feedback on the pros and cons of it,” Kind said. “It would raise a chunk of change. He would use that money and dedicate it to the Highway Trust Fund for infrastructure purposes. That could be a sustainable revenue source, but I'm not clear what the investment impact would be if you start taxing those trades, even at a small level.”
Regardless of how it gets funded, Kind thinks a good infrastructure system in America is the best way to compete with China.