By Austin Ramirez
Wisconsin’s infrastructure needs a makeover. More than 80% of our state’s roads are in poor condition — making them the worst in the nation. We’ll need $13 billion over the next decade to fund the necessary improvements.
That’s why President Biden’s plan to revitalize our highways, rails, and waterways is so needed. But it’s still unclear how he’d pay for it. It’d be smartest, fiscally and politically, to pursue a carbon tax.
Our country’s infrastructure is in desperate need of repair. The American Society of Civil Engineers put the price of upgrades at nearly $2.6 trillion over ten years.
Wisconsin’s needs are especially dire. According to a White House analysis, we have “198 bridges and 1,949 miles of highway in poor condition.” More than one in eight Wisconsinites live in areas without access to broadband internet. We’d need $8.6 billion to deliver clean water to all Wisconsin homes.
In Milwaukee, the cost of replacing the city’s lead laterals — the unsafe lead pipes connecting the regional water supply to residences — could total $750 million.
Any successful infrastructure package must be bipartisan and economically sustainable. That’s why lawmakers must consider a carbon tax.
As Biden knows, the most successful infrastructure project of the last century was the federal Interstate Highway System. One of the keys to its success was that it had a dedicated revenue stream from user fees: the federal gasoline tax.
User-fee systems work because taxpayers and policymakers get what they pay for. That incentivizes accountability and sustainability.
We have a win-win user fee available to fund Biden’s infrastructure plan: a carbon tax. Like the highway system’s gas tax, a federal carbon user fee would tie the funding of infrastructure projects to the people who benefit from them, while helping fight against climate change — one of the president’s priorities.
A tax imposed on the burning of carbon-based fuels could generate huge revenues. A report from the non-profit Tax Foundation found that a carbon tax could bring in nearly $1.9 trillion over 10 years. An analysis from the U.S. Treasury Department pegged that number higher, at $2.2 trillion.
A carbon user fee would tax an environmentally hazardous activity and incentivize the technological innovations necessary to overcome our dependence on carbon-based fuels.
All this — coupled with the millions of jobs our upgraded infrastructure would create in Wisconsin and nationwide — is a recipe for success.
Now is the time for our leaders to rebuild and invest in the future. On infrastructure, Biden has the perfect opportunity to reach across the aisle by embracing user fees. The result will be a better bill, better infrastructure, and the booming economy we all need.
Austin Ramirez is CEO of Waukesha-based Husco. He is vice chair of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers’ “Infrastructure Vision 2050” task force.