Infrastructure Week 2021: Follow Illinois’ Lead with the American Jobs Plan

Investing in infrastructure creates jobs and boosts the economy. The nation’s infrastructure has been underfunded for far too long, with the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) giving U.S. infrastructure a “C-” grade. ASCE estimates that the United States needs more than $2 trillion to bring its aging infrastructure systems up to par. The United States’ infrastructure now ranks behind countries like Japan, Germany, France, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates. Well-maintained roads, bridges, paths, transit systems, airports, and ports are important for businesses to thrive as goods and services are more easily accessible to all. The modernization of these systems – along with the nation’s energy grid, high-speed internet capabilities, drinking water infrastructure, and affordable housing stock – are essential to building a high quality of life for current and future generations of Americans.

Similar to the national story, Illinois’ infrastructure had been grossly underfunded for decades. From roads to transit systems, maintenance was postponed and new projects to address safety or congestion needs went unbuilt. In 2018, an estimated $21 billion per year was needed to both address deferred building maintenance and bring Illinois’ transportation systems into a state of good repair.

Finally, in June 2019, Illinois passed a historic capital infrastructure plan, Rebuild Illinois. The $45 billion capital bill includes investments in physical infrastructure over a six-year period. Approximately $33 billion will be invested in transportation infrastructure projects – such as roads, bridges, transit, airports, and ports – while the remaining funding goes towards improving public schools, colleges, universities, early childhood centers, state facilities, environmental conservation, broadband internet, affordable housing, and community development projects. The plan could save and create as many as 90,000 jobs per year and revitalize the state’s economy over the long run.

COVID-19 has had a major impact, with Illinois losing over $1 billion in transportation revenues due to pandemic-related declines in fuel consumption, sales taxes, and transit ridership. However, because Rebuild Illinois doubled the motor fuel tax (MFT) – which hadn’t been raised 29 years – Illinois still generated $800 million more in gas tax revenue than prior to passage of Rebuild Illinois.

Despite the shortfalls associated with COVID-19, funding from Rebuild Illinois continues to be released for infrastructure improvements. For example, in April 2021, the Illinois Department of Transportation announced that $110 million in funding would be released later in the year to improve, modernize, and revitalize public ports across the state. In addition, more than $4 million was awarded in mid-April to Southern Illinois University Carbondale for the replacement of sewer lines and other university improvements. The university previously was awarded $84 million in Rebuild Illinois funding to remodel the Communications Building.

Not only do these investments address crumbling infrastructure, they support local economies: Every $1 billion in infrastructure investment boosts the economy by between $1.7 billion and $3.5 billion in Illinois and saves or creates up to 25,000 jobs.

Now is the time for the United States as a whole to follow Illinois’ lead and pass historic legislation to invest in our nation’s infrastructure. In March 2021, President Joe Biden proposed the American Jobs Plan, a $2.25 trillion, eight-year plan that would upgrade and repair American’s physical infrastructure, promote American manufacturing, invest in research and development, and expand long-term health care services.

The American Jobs Plan has broad support from the public: 73 percent of Americans support the proposed plan, including 57 percent of Republican voters. And 62 percent of Americans support higher corporate taxes to pay for infrastructure investment.

The American Jobs Plan also looks towards the future with proposed investments in clean energy infrastructure. Studies have found that climate change is already impacting the nation’s infrastructure. Another study on the Midwest’ infrastructure found negative impacts from climate change on transportation systems, including reduced asphalt lifespan from increased heat, more structurally deficient bridges from flooding, and higher maintenance costs from extreme weather. Damage to significant freight routes or hubs, such as those in Chicago and across the Midwest, also impose significant economic losses in the region.

Funding clean energy infrastructure would address climate change and could provide good, middle-class jobs. Following the economic recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States is in urgent need of good jobs that provide family-supporting wages and ensure access to quality health care coverage. If passed, the American Jobs Plan would create “good-quality jobs that pay prevailing wages in safe and healthy workplaces while ensuring workers have a free and fair choice to organize, join a union, and bargain collectively with their employers.”

Here again, the United States may soon be able to look to Illinois as an example. The Climate Union Jobs Act has been introduced by a bipartisan group of state lawmakers in Illinois to move the state towards a 100 percent clean energy economy powered by skilled local workers who earn middle-class wages while also increasing diversity, stabilizing the current energy portfolio, and boosting apprenticeship training. The legislation was championed by Climate Jobs Illinois, a pro-worker, pro-climate coalition of labor organizations advocating for a clean energy economy at the scale climate science demands with good union jobs and more equitable communities.

The time for inaction and stagnation is over. The United States should follow in Illinois’ footsteps and pass a historic, bold, transformative jobs and infrastructure plan to stimulate the economy, improve the competitiveness of America’s small businesses and American manufacturers, rebuild the middle class, and ensure a high quality of life for current and future generations of Americans.