The Hutchins Center at the Brookings Institute has published a nice explainer on public investment, which includes a look at various official definitions of infrastructure, and trends in state and federal public investment over the last decades.
You’ve probably had your day get off to a bad start thanks to a public transportation meltdown, a dive into an unexpected pothole, a circuitous detour thanks to unexpected emergency bridge repair, or other evidences of below-par public infrastructure. If these occurrences seem more frequent, there’s a reason—spending on infrastructure by both the federal government is down, and on the state level, it’s down almost everywhere.
Surprisingly, considering how prosperous some parts of the Commonwealth are, Massachusetts leads New England in the decline in state infrastructure spending. We’ve cut it by over 20%, according to this article, a rate more common in the west, southern states, and rustbelt. Connecticut, Vermont, and Rhode Island have increased infrastructure spending; decreases in Maine and New Hampshire were under 20%.
The article proposes two fixes and the first is an infrastructure bank, and while they imagine that bank being an independent federal agency, there’s no reason why a state can’t step up to set up such an institution on their own, as we propose Massachusetts do. Proponents of a federal infrastructure bank point to better coordination and higher-quality projects being selected. We say that the biggest wins for Massachusetts towns would be the ability to access lower-cost financing for projects in a way that would keep municipal money invested in Massachusetts, instead of Wall Street.
But an infrastructure bank makes sense for Massachusetts beyond the immediate economic benefits of lower costs to municipalities and more good-paying jobs. The more easygoing among us can deal with an extra 20 minutes in traffic. Organized types can just take out their phones and catch up on office email while waiting to squeeze onto the next train (if it comes). But it’s much harder to deal with decaying roads and bridges if you have a long commute, time is tight, and your job pays by the hour. It’s even harder to shrug off leaky roofs or failing furnaces at your kids’ school. Infrastructure investment reaps important, but intangible, good: less day to day stress, a bolstered sense of common good, and a lot more pride in your town and state.