The recent superstorm known as Hurricane Sandy left an indelible mark upon our state. As we have struggled to regain a sense of normalcy, the resiliency of the Garden State has been on fine display.
The storm also has driven home the point that it is critical for our state to sufficiently address its desperate infrastructure needs. This is not just a physical reality but an economic imperative as well.
Historically, economists have often said that the creation of a robust and dependable infrastructure system is an essential building block for a great economy. Absent our roadways, water systems, energy supply grids, bridges, and rail system, companies could not supply their goods to market, individuals would not have electricity or drinkable water, families could not help their children bolster their educational opportunities, and our state would cease to be an incubator for enhanced productivity and innovation.
What is mindboggling is that despite the indispensable nature of our state’s infrastructure, lack of real investment over time and indifference to its systemic value to our economy have allowed much of it to fall into a state of disrepair. What is clear, however, is that New Jersey’s recovery from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy will be inextricably linked to our ability to create a more robust and sustainable infrastructure system.
Too often, we have neglected this foundation of our economy while our competitors in the global marketplace have invested in state-of-the-art water, energy and transportation systems. New Jersey’s once strong manufacturing base has moved “off-shore,” taking valued jobs, innovative ideas, and economic opportunity along with it. If we do not seize this moment in time to reconstruct a solid foundation for our state’s growth and restoration, then our position as a national leader in innovation and economic progress will survive only as a piece of nostalgia in the recesses of our minds.
Therefore, the essential question is not if we must take this action but rather how does New Jersey afford this investment?
One possible solution is contained in a legislative proposal (A3177), which would establish a special non-lapsing, revolving fund within the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust to be known as the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank Program. My colleague, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, and I have introduced this measure to couple private capital in pension, private equity, and other resources with public funds, to infuse capital into these much-needed infrastructure projects.
The trust would leverage federal and state money with the aforementioned private investment to then extend targeted loans and other financial assistance to public or private entities for the planning, acquisition, engineering, construction, reconstruction, repair, and rehabilitation of a transportation project or for any other purpose permitted under the enabling federal program.
Essentially, this measure will provide a push to get these critical infrastructure projects started, while recognizing that these types of projects –– roads, bridges, energy or water system plants, the restoration of the Jersey shore natural gas pipelines, or the burying of energy lines below ground –– can pay for themselves over time.
The basic premise of the infrastructure bank was born out of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s construction of the New Deal and the undeniable success of the Works Project Administrations during our nation’s recovery from the Great Depression. President Roosevelt correctly surmised that by allowing the government to operate in this space, with the flexibility of a private enterprise, it could reignite a stagnant economy and grow the job market.
With New Jersey’s current unemployment rate still hovering unacceptably above 9 percent, new approaches to solve this problem may lie in a proven historical precedent. That is our intention with this proposal, to grow jobs and rebuild our ailing state.
New Jersey’s ability to demonstrate our collective strength in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, to rebuild our struggling economy, and to advance the values embodied in the phrase “Jersey Strong,” is only truly possible if we make the commitment to invest smartly in modernizing our infrastructure.
Our state simply cannot wait any longer to address this need. If we take the proper action now to better facilitate, finance, and foster these critical investments in New Jersey’s infrastructure, we can ensure continued prosperity for future generations, while immediately helping to get New Jersey working again.
Troy Singleton is a state assemblyman representing the 7th legislative district, which includes Bordentown and Burlington. This article originally appeared in the Hall Institute of New Jersey’s November 30 newsletter, available at www.hallnj.org.