Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
Democrats and Republicans are at an impasse on infrastructure funding, but a majority of Americans support new spending on such investment.
As President Barack Obama gave the State of the Union address last night, House Speaker John Boehner sat on his hands for certain ideas and proposals. That's to be expected: These guys play for different teams. And these formalities have to be taken with a grain of salt. That Boehner doesn't applaud for President Obama's proposals for infrastructure, for example (he didn't), doesn't mean that he doesn't have any of his own.
Earlier this month, though, Boehner staked out a declarative position on the subject. He opposes increasing the gas tax to boost infrastructure spending, despite the new lows for oil prices. "We’ve got to find a way to deal with America’s crumbling infrastructure," he told reporters on January 8, but he didn't specify how.
Improving infrastructure may be a higher priority for Americans than Boehner thinks. In a recent poll conducted by Zogby for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, respondents overwhelmingly endorsed infrastructure spending as an important priority for all levels of government.
According to the poll, 65 percent of respondents said that "fixing infrastructure, including roads, bridges, water, and sewage systems" should be a high priority for a city mayor. Only 10 percent of respondents registered infrastructure spending as low priority. Only public safety proved a more popular priority for poll respondents.
Infrastructure beat out cutting the cost of government by a wide margin: Forty percent of respondents said this was a high priority, while just 22 percent said this should be a low priority.
Respondents living in cities, suburbs, and even rural ares all said that they thought it was crucial that the 114th Congress pass a new transportation investment bill. In small cities, 64 percent of residents said this bill should be a high priority for Congress; just 7 percent said it was a low priority. In rural areas, where the bill found the least support, 46 percent of respondents—almost half—still said that a new transportation investment bill should be a high priority.
Are Obama and the Republican majority in Congress just talking past one another when it comes to infrastructure spending? It's possible. In the official GOP response to the State of the Union, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst blamed the president for dragging his heels on one piece of infrastrcuture: the Keystone XL pipeline. Obama has said that the 114th Congress is unlikely to vote on an infrastructure bill.
As he sat out the applause lines on infrastucture, Boehner's body language last night seemed to indicate that a new infrastructure bill wouldn't get a vote any time soon. But if he needs any more evidence about the importance of funding new infrastructure spending, he need look no further than the greater Cincinnati area, near his home district, where a bridge overpass on I-75 collapsed on Monday night as it was being prepared for demolition.