When we talk in Washington, DC, about the challenge of financing the transportation maintenance and improvements needed in every state in America, members of the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) know exactly what we mean.
After all, our state legislators are the ones who have to figure out how to stretch a budget so their state can modernize a key airport. They're the ones who have to cast the difficult votes that mean their state can fix one road but not another.
So, when I spoke this morning at the NCSL's State Transportation Leaders Summit, co-chaired by State Senators Bruce Starr (Orgeon) and Scott Dibble (Minnesota), about the importance of finding a way to fund our nation's transportation needs, I saw a lot of heads--of Democrats and Republicans--nodding up and down in agreement. They know the benefits transportation provides, and they know the costs we incur when we don't fund the transportation that moves our economy.
It was fitting to have this conversation in Atlanta, where Home Depot, Coca Cola, UPS, Delta, and other large employers make their homes. One reason so many of America's top businesses have their headquarters in Atlanta is because Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport--one of the busiest airports in the world--has grown at the pace of business, maintaining the ability to move millions of people in and out of the Atlanta area each year and billions of dollars in cargo to markets across the U.S. and around the world.
It's a simple equation: If the airport doesn't keep up, Atlanta doesn't keep up.
Every one of the state legislators I spoke with today knows that the same is true for their states: if a state's roadways, runways, and railways can't grow at the pace of business, the state's economy can't grow.
Our state legislators and other leaders don’t look at infrastructure through a partisan lens; they listen to their constituents. And they're hearing the same thing we hear at DOT: a 21st century economy requires 21st century transportation.
MAP-21, the transportation law signed by President Obama last year, was a great start. It provided states and communities two years of steady funding and the certainty they need to plan a couple of years of critical road, bridge, and transit projects. It ensured the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund for two years. And it allowed DOT to work faster and smarter.
But MAP-21 expires in little more than a year; the Highway Trust Fund is facing a long-term structural deficit; and this short-term way of doing business is unsustainable.
President Obama has laid out a plan to put people to work repairing our roads and bridges and to help our nation compete by investing in the new transportation solutions we need. He has also proposed to simplify the tax code for America's businesses and create good jobs with good wages for middle-class families.
The President is willing to work with Members of Congress to invest in a stronger America. But we need everyone to come to the table. The time to invest in our nation's future is not later; our state legislators know, the time is now.
Anthony Foxx is the 17th U.S. Secretary of Transportation.