We need to chart a new course to reverse this decline in jobs and economic opportunity. Prudent investments to rebuild mass transit equipment and facilities, water and sewer systems, roads, and structurally deficient and obsolete bridges could help us do so.
Stretched to limits
The storm stretched our roads and bridges, dams and levees, pumping stations, and energy grids to their limits. Fortunately, although much of this infrastructure is in critical condition, most of it functioned effectively, limiting storm damage, keeping us safe, and allowing the cleanup to begin without further delay. But engineering studies tell us that these structures won't hold much longer. Acting now to repair, strengthen, and rebuild them would provide insurance against future extreme weather events, shore up precarious facilities, and put people back to work.
But the governor remains surprisingly unwilling to confront the commonwealth's employment challenges. He has no jobs plan, and the corporate tax reduction strategy he champions has failed to boost employment. His budget policies, meanwhile, have been largely punitive - especially for the poor - eliminating health care, safety-net programs, and education assistance.
There is an alternative strategy that we should embrace - a proven strategy with a track record of success. In 2003 and 2004, Pennsylvania adopted an aggressive invest-and-grow approach as my colleagues and I worked with then-Gov. Ed Rendell to encourage the creation of jobs in tough economic conditions.
A bipartisan economic stimulus program marshaled $2 billion in state funding to attract an additional $5 billion in private investment for community revitalization, preparation of sites for development, infrastructure improvements, and business investment. We spearheaded more than $100 million in direct business investment subsidies, $50 million in technology investments, and $50 million in initiatives designed to revitalize downtown business corridors.
Not just potholes
Hurricane Sandy provides the state with an opportunity to rethink the Corbett administration's failed economic strategy. As we go about making storm-related repairs to our aging infrastructure, it would be foolish to do just enough to patch it up and get us through. Let's not just fix a few potholes on our roads and highways; let's find that $2.5 billion investment plan recommended by Corbett's handpicked transportation commission, take it off the shelf, and put it into action.
Creative uses of new Marcellus Shale-related and other revenues, along with tax credits to encourage private investment in water, sewer, and mass transit systems, could fund $1.5 billion in upgrades. Similarly, revenue from the state's insurance premiums tax could spur hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment and link it to current university research through the Ben Franklin Technology Partners program.
Democrats in the state Senate have a comprehensive plan for infrastructure investment, job training, and technology development to make Pennsylvania's economy grow, without increasing any taxes. Let's use the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy as an opportunity to refocus our priorities and create permanent, family-sustaining jobs.
Vincent J. Hughes is a Democratic state senator representing parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County.