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The time for $1 trillion in infrastructure spending is now

Citing the lengthy process involved in building a “simple highway,” President Trump told 52 business leaders at the White House that he plans to cut red tape and jump-start infrastructure projects by eliminating more than 90 percent of the regulations involved while still providing for safety.

Moving forward quickly with the promised $1 trillion infrastructure plan is something everyone should favor. After all, it’s certain that spending to improve the nation’s infrastructure always boosts the demand side of the economy while producing productive roads and freeways, bridges, airports, seaports, waterways and so on. And boating would benefit both directly and indirectly.

High consumer confidence and the rising stock market are certainly leading the current economic improvement, but there’s no denying we’re still in the slowest GDP growth following any recession in our lifetime. Moreover, when we look specifically at our marine industry recovery, it has been at a glacial pace. We deserve to do better so we need to speak up for an end to the ideological hissy-fits we’re seeing in Washington and move forward.

A problem: You’ll recall President Obama proposed a big infrastructure program and the Republicans essentially buried it, something economists say contributed to stagnant wages and slow growth. Now, it doesn’t take a degree from Wharton to see the Democrats will oppose everything President Trump proposes and that will leave us with the continued deterioration of public assets and a failure to stimulate growth.

Aside from the expected raspberries and assorted hand gestures, the biggest argument we’ll likely hear against an infrastructure plan will be the need to borrow for such investments, thus increasing the current $20 trillion national debt. But deficit financing of productive assets can be justifiable when the benefits of borrowing exceed the cost of borrowing.

I’m not saying this – it’s the opinion of William H. Holahan, economics professor emeritus from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and co-author Charles O. Kroncke, retired dean of the College of Business at UW-M. Recently published in the Tampa Bay Times, they maintain Trump can meet some of the infrastructure needs with private financing. In such public-private partnerships, the investors fund the project and recoup their return by charging users of the completed facility.

In such a “P3” deal, the government still owns the facility and regulates the quality of service and fees charged. They site an example I know all too well, having driven over it many times. It’s the Chicago Skyway Bridge connecting south Chicago to Indiana. After paying Chicago a reported $1.5 billion, the road was reconstructed (it badly needed it) entitling the private sector to a stream of tolls in future years.

With today’s interest rates still historically low, it’s time for these kinds of infrastructure projects. And boating can benefit in many ways with more people with good paying jobs being able to afford more boats; manufacturing more boats means more trucks driving good highways to delivering inventory; more boat owners successfully trailering on America’s roads; projects that increase — directly or indirectly — access to waterways for recreational boats; boating benefits related to seaport improvements; and that just names a few.

National Marine Manufacturers Association president Thom Dammrich noted in addressing last December’s Advisory Council of Marine Associations’ annual meeting that the marine industry must begin identifying what needs could be met for boating from a $1 trillion infrastructure program.

It’s sure to be among the key topics at the upcoming America Boating Congress in Washington (May 15-17). In fact, the NMMA's lobbying team has been on Capitol Hill discussing a recreation title in any infrastructure bill. Improving facilities and access on public lands should be part of any infrastructure bill as every dollar in recreation infrastructure spending yields $10 of economic activity.

There’s still time to register and attend the ABC (go to www.nmma.org) where you can deliver the message to your members of Congress of the importance of boating to the nation’s $646 billion recreation economy. We must do all we can to push an end to the legislative dysfunction and a good beginning would be to attend ABC and to get behind a big infrastructure program.

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