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Hillary Clinton Wants $275 Billion in Additional Federal Infrastructure Spending—But Won’t Say How She’d Pay For It

The Democratic candidate's plan is both vague and unnecessary.

Foter / Gage SkidmoreFoter / Gage SkidmoreIn a speech yesterday, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called for an additional $250 billion in federal infrastructure spending over five years, as well as $25 billion to fund a federally run infrastructure bank, saying that the proposed spending would serve as a “down payment” on the country’s future.

The first thing to note about the plan is that Clinton won’t say precisely how she’d pay for it. Her campaign says that she would offset the price of the new spending through some sort of business tax reform, but, rather tellingly, wouldn’t provide any additional details when asked by Bloomberg Politics.

That’s becoming an increasingly familiar part of Hillary Clinton’s policy playbook: As I wrote last week, the candidate’s plans often call for new spending, and new taxes or tax “reforms” (which, given that they are supposed to raise additional revenues would require higher taxation of someone) to pay for it. But she tends to decline to say exactly which taxes, exactly, would be raised or reformed, only that the hikes will not hit families making less than $250,000 annually. Over the course of her campaign,

Politically, this sort of tax hike hand waving is a good move, because it allows Clinton to proposed hundreds of billions in new spending while saying, essentially, that of course it will be paid for—by someone else. That vagueness, and the dodge it grants Clinton, is central to her proposal, for this sort of spending would be a much harder sell if she said that the middle class might be on the hook for the bill. 

The second thing to understand about Clinton’s proposed hike in infrastructure spending is that, despite Clinton's pablum about how the spending is necessary to build the country's economy, the infrastructure projects themselves are hardly pressing.

Yes, the American Society of Civil Engineers frequently gives U.S. infrastructure poor grades, and insists that more spending is necessary. But how surprising is it really that an organization of civil engineers wants more spending on civil engineering?

What these reports tend to downplay, meanwhile, is that on many measures, American infrastructure is actually getting better and safer, and that funding levels have been basically consistent over time.

As Evan Soltas noted in Bloomberg View in 2013, there was a significant reduction in the number of bridges labeled deficient (which is not the same as unsafe) between 1989 and 2009; there’s been a clear decline in the number of both rural and urban roads in poor condition; and traffic congestion on urban interstates dropped from 52.6 percent in 1989 to 26.3 percent. In addition, U.S. infrastructure spending has held at broadly the same rate as a percentage of GDP over the last several decades.

In other words, there’s no urgent need for a significant bump in federal infrastructure funding—much less an ongoing future commitment to higher spending in the category, as Clinton’s “down payment” line implies.

Nor is it a good idea to grant the federal government increased administrative power over the nation's infrastructure. As Cato's Chris Edwards noted in a 2011 op-ed for The Washington Post, the history of federal management of major infrastructure projects is rife with cost overruns and poorly managed, poorly chosen projects. 

The idea that this is merely the start of some longer-term commitment to higher spending is a big part of what’s worrying about Clinton’s plan. If she won’t even say how she’ll pay for the down payment, then how in the world does she plan to pay for whatever comes next?

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  • sarcasmic||

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  • JW||

    A vote for Hillary is a vote for begbanner-less commenting!

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  • UnCivilServant||

    I regret nothing.

  • Jordan||

    Winston, is that you?

  • UnCivilServant||

    Who?

  • Res ipsa loquitur||

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  • Illocust||

    Well, I was actually thinking of donating a dollar just to make it stop, but fuck that now. Seriously, every single page Reason? Are you trying to make your site unusable?

  • UnCivilServant||

    Good news - clicking the darkness makes it go away, so the scrolling isn't needed. (At least on my workstation, your results may vary)

  • Illocust||

    I figured that out, but it's still slowing my load speed and messing with my comments. It's a major pain.

  • Illocust||

    Be better if they could figure out a way to have construction crews work faster. I'm related to some, and there is a very real mindset that working any faster than absolutely necessary is just throwing away hours of paid work. Maybe allow cities to take into account histories of being on time and on budget when taking bids?

    Probably wouldn't help considering how corrupt and entitled the whole business is. Seriously, I listened to a lecture from a civil engineer who thought his highway was being held hostage because he wasn't completely allowed to shut down the cities main freight train hub for months on end. He was horrified that he had to put in a little extra work so they could continue operation while he did construction.

  • Cyto||

    More than this, the entire industry is designed around continuous work. The contractors that fix roads, bridges, etc. have to keep their crews working. So they set things up such that they move from one end of the state (or county, or whatever the relevant jurisdiction) to the other. When they reach the end, the place where they started is falling apart and they start all over. There is absolutely no incentive anywhere in the system to do better. In fact, the incentive is to maintain the status quo or do worse.

    The state gets to spend more, hire more people, extract more payments for influence. The contractors get more cash. The workers get to do more work.

    My father helped introduce a polymer coating that is used in roofing and other applications. He helped develop a coating for bridges and other metal infrastructure based on this product. When they took it to the guy who had the contract for all of the bridges in North Carolina and explained that it would last for 20-30 years,rather than the 2 years he was getting from paint, he asked "why would I want to do that?"

    He had a contract to paint bridges every 2 years. He had enough crews to get all the bridges done in exactly 2 years. Perpetual motion cash machine. So they took the offer to the politicians and bureaucrats. No interest. Guess who the big contributors to their campaigns are? Guess who buys them dinners and takes them to the strip clubs?

    Really hard to change that.

  • Hyperbolical (wadair)||

    Cash or other incentives to finish early and come in under budget might appeal to some.

    I fortunately live in a community that takes good care of their roads. But we have to put up with perpetual repair and perpetual upgrades. It's a mixed blessing.

  • Cyto||

    The perpetual nature of the repairs is the result of the way the contracting works. Sure, enough equipment and workers exist to repair all of it in one go. But then what? Are they all to sit around idle for the next few years? You'd have to go with a big national firm like Haliburton. For the local big contractor this is a major part of his business, so the equipment and men are dedicated 100% to the government contract. Everything finds a level where there is enough capacity to continually be working. And the price turns out to be exactly that amount that would allow the right firm to stay in business and make just a little bit more than they probably ought to. Any more and someone else would swoop in and take the bid. Any less and.... well, let's not kid ourselves. We are talking about bureaucrats and politicians spending other people's money. There is no "any less" option in this scenario.

  • Cyto||

    This is also why these types of contracts don't have "finish early" or "under budget" involved in them. Each state, county, city, town, etc. has local contractors who are doing this sort of work. Everyone involved wants to keep the work local. So for most of these types of deals there is a strong incentive to keep the job right-sized for the local guy. So instead of finishing the renovation of the downtown medians and sidewalks in 3 months with a huge crew, it gets done in bits and pieces over 5 years. The local company can plan for this and hire a couple of crews that will be busy for the next 5 years. They'd never have the resources to hire in 20 times that amount of people and equipment, just for a one-off job. Big companies exist that could do the job in one go, but they don't want to move everything in unless they are making a certain amount, so the local guy comes in just under that level. If he has over-runs, well, who's gonna complain?

    Ever watch a big new road get built? They usually move along at one point of construction, with one big crew advancing the road. Now, if you were building 120 miles of road, you could surely put 10 crews just like that out and have each crew do 12 miles. But that isn't usually what is done. Note what happened in North Dakota when they had the fracking boom. Infrastructure went in overnight, with crews crawling all over the state like ants. But that is the exception, not the rule.

  • Eman||

    interesting. ive worked pretty much exclusively in kitchens, where, well, speed is the wrong word. getting something done when you say you're going to be done is absolutely essential. if you actually don't know for some reason, that's more useful information than a number you pull out of your ass. and kitchens are full almost exclusively of illegal immigrants and people who dont want to be there. I understand that fixing a road is a much more involved project than making a plate of whatever but they seem to place no importance at all on what they said they would do. same problem with doctors (i always show up to appts late, and they still aren't ready to see me). both are kinda government enforced oligopolies. weird how that works.

  • Win Bear||

    More than this, the entire industry is designed around continuous work. The contractors that fix roads, bridges, etc. have to keep their crews working. So they set things up such that they move from one end of the state (or county, or whatever the relevant jurisdiction) to the other. When they reach the end, the place where they started is falling apart and they start all over.

    Yes, so? That's always how contractors work; they need steady income, after all. The number of contracts adjusts to meet the demand, but no matter whether you spend a lot or a little on contractors, they will generally always be doing something.

    That is, if it takes a week to repair one mile of road and the repair lasts 10 years, then one crew can maintain about 500 miles of road, and they will be continuously busy.

    There is absolutely no incentive anywhere in the system to do better. In fact, the incentive is to maintain the status quo or do worse.

    Whether a contractor delivers a high quality or low quality result, and how that is verified in government contracting, is an entirely different issue. Obviously, contract bidding should be set up in a way that companies are incentivized to deliver long lasting results. So, for example, you might write a contract that requires a company to maintain a given 500 mile road network for 10 years at a given price.

  • Drake||

    Contract management - funny that private industry can do it but government can't.

  • MSimon||

    How to pay for it?

    Drug and gun running.

  • Swiss Servator||

    +1 Mena Airport

    *tightens foil pakol*

  • JW||

  • Pompey||

    In other words, there’s no urgent need for a significant bump in federal infrastructure funding—much less an ongoing future commitment to higher spending in the category, as Clinton’s “down payment” line implies.

    How wrong you are, Suderman. We need more massive piles of shit like USDOT TIGER projects, but with a 10x multiplier. How can you overlook the tremendous assist that crony boondoggles brought to the Great Recovery? Why it was like a peacetime equivalent to war spending, so we were essentially double-dipping on the recovery majickz in that regard.

  • wareagle||

    Yes, the American Society of Civil Engineers frequently gives U.S. infrastructure poor grades, and insists that more spending is necessary.

    my question remains the same: what are states and the feds doing with existing monies that are, theoretically, to be used for infrastructure? Each state has a DOT, along with a gas tax and assorted other vehicle-related fees. There is a federal dept plus DC's take of the gas tax. Only in govt is it reasonable to say "we've poorly managed the money we've taken from you so far, so we're gonna have to take more."

  • Pompey||

    Hush. TIGER projects fixed the economy.

  • Glide||

    I think you mean "you didn't give us enough money to poorly manage, so we're gonna have to take more."

  • SimonD||

    I've said on more than one occasion that government is the only entity in which you can get more power, more money and more control specifically because you are a failure.

  • Eman||

    it is. if the government does something that doesnt work, their response is always to just do it harder (theyve already created some sort of power structure, which of course desperately wants to grow its power). as much as people like to complain about "big business" and shit, i think our government should be run MORE like a business.

  • Hi there!||

    You're wrong about 'only in government'...you find this reasoning at failed businesses too. And it's rampant wherever you have heavy regulation.

  • Hugh Akston||

    I'm kinda surprised that anyone actually bothered to ask Hillary how she'd pay for this spending.

  • JW||

    Somethingsomethingtaxthewealthysomething.

  • Banjos||

    She should have been asked "taxes or the inflation"?

  • Sir Chips Alot||

    take it from those evil 1%ers. Then when they are gone, tax the next 1%ers. See, you can do this forever?

  • Eman||

    i saw one of those college student protesters on tv saying there was always going to be a "one percent" to tax, which I thought was very revealing. shes right, of course, just not in the way she meant.

  • JW||

    The first thing to note about the plan is that Clinton won’t say precisely how she’d pay for it.

    Details, shmetails.

    Allow me to illustrate the American form of democracy in action:

    1. Promises
    2. Votes
    3 ???? MAGIC
    4. PROFIT

  • Swiss Servator||

    1. Promises
    2. Votes
    3. Regulations, Laws, Rules abound
    4. Utopia!

  • Hyperbolical (wadair)||

    Her campaign says that she would offset the price of the new spending through some sort of business tax reform...

    I'm pretty sure that "business tax reform" means business tax increase.

  • Drake||

    We have the highest business taxes in the world, why not raise them?

    We're #1!

  • Jordan||

    How exactly does she square this with her pledge to also lower taxes? I know Keynesian clowns don't believe in the Laffer Curve, so to her that would mean an automatic drop in revenue.

    That's a rhetorical question, by the way.

  • Hyperbolical (wadair)||

    I think she means to raise taxes on business but maybe not on individuals. After all, businesses all have hoards of cash sitting around because they don't pay their Fair Share™.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    And we all know that businesses NEVER pass their increased costs on to their customers.

  • Lorenzo Zoil||

    I wonder how you promise not to impact people with income less than 250k when the price of consumer goods will necessarily increase?

  • SimonD||

    Don't you know anything? All businesses from Apple, to Ed's Apple Farm, have piles of cash hidden away in vaults, like Scrooge McDuck. The CEO goes diving in them once per week for fun. 'Hillary!' just wants to skim the top six inches or so off of each company's vault.

    They don't pay dividends with the cash, or invest it in improving their business, or even put it into a bank account so the bank can loan it out. Just like I said, they make a diving pool with $100 bills. Taking that money from them to give to unions will make the economy BETTER. Jeez, don't you remember your Keynesian theory?

  • SimonD||

    oh, /sarc (in case it wasn't obvious)

  • Lorenzo Zoil||

    Hangs head in shame,... Forgot Keynes was the Oracle of all that is wise and good.

    Oh wait.

  • Win Bear||

    No, they simply move overseas.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Reason's own Bob Poole wants to significantly increase infrastructure spending and effectively triple the gas tax. So which is it? Do we spend enough on infrastructure or not?

  • The Last American Hero||

    Billions in free shit plus somebody else pays is the Team Blue platform. Trouble for Team Blue is, their new salesmen suck.

  • Win Bear||

    Trouble for Team Blue is, their new salesmen suck.

    I think the last time Hillary did that was long before Monica.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    saying that the proposed spending would serve as a “down payment” on the country’s future

    "Down payment", eh? So what is the whole bill going to be?

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "But she tends to decline to say exactly which taxes, exactly, would be raised or reformed, only that the hikes will not hit families making less than $250,000 annually"

    Hmmm.

    I seem to recall a similar promise made by the current occupant of the oval office.

    How did that turn out?

  • Spartacus||

    It turned out extremely well. He got elected twice. Why not try it again?

  • brady949||

    there’s been a clear decline in the number of both rural and urban roads in poor condition; and traffic congestion on urban interstates dropped from 52.6 percent in 1989 to 26.3 percent.

    Hi - I see you've never been to California.

  • Win Bear||

    There isn't enough money on the planet to fix California's infrastructure problems, because governor moonbeam will take whatever money he can get his grubby fingers on and spend it on boondoggles like HSR, plus handouts to his political supporters.

  • Ron||

    I always laugh at the failing infrastructure. As soon as any thing is built, within a year it no longer meets code hence they are all failing or substandard. its one of those cry wolf scares the left and media are always drumbeating to attack their opponents and raise more government spending.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    It's funny how this crisis always serious enough to warrant raising more taxes but never serious enough to redirect existing spending from any of the long laundry list of other government programs they approve of to infrastructure.

  • SimonD||

    Hey, I think you've hit on the solution. We can repeal Obamacare, and funnel 20% of that spending into infrastructure repair, along with right-to-work reform in federally funded contracts. We can kill two birds with one stone (in a peaceful, non-woodchipper-y way, of course).

  • CatoTheYounger||

    It's always about "infrastructure" isn't it? The uncreativity of statist politicians is staggering.

  • John C. Randolph||

    We already know where the money would come from. The Fed would shit it out like the last 20 trillion or so.

    -jcr

  • Rockabilly||

    vote for ME and I will give everyone One Trillion Dollars for FREE!!!

  • Lorenzo Zoil||

    Wasn't there some sort of famous, often mis-attributed, quote on that very subject?

  • julia brown||

    I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life. For further details, Check this link…………. http://www.earni8.com

  • Win Bear||

    Clinton called for an additional $250 billion in federal infrastructure spending over five years, as well as $25 billion to fund a federally run infrastructure bank, saying that the proposed spending would serve as a “down payment” on the country’s future.

    This is what "too much money in politics" means: corrupt politicians like Clinton taxing people to then pay off the special interests that support her.

  • gordo53||

    There are only two ways to raise the capital for that kind of additional spending. Either borrow it or simply print the money. Over the long haul, one is as harmful to the economy as the other. Choose your poison.

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