Stimulated Talk

Stimulated Talk

Copyright 2008, Traffic World, Inc.

Shippers and transportation operators may be at odds over a wide range of business issues, but when it comes to the government and political arena, they share one very close bond - both sides believe transportation gets the short end of the stick.

Unfortunately, the rush in Washington this month to forge an economic stimulus package cast the transport world in a too-familiar role of looking for spending in all the familiar opportunistic places.

We say that''s unfortunate because by all accounts the main participants putting together the stimulus package were behaving in ways that have long been out of fashion in Washington. Democratic leaders in Congress were setting aside their opposition to things such as tax breaks for business while the White House was leaving its call for an extension of the 2001 tax cuts at the door.

Instead, both sides were looking at a very sharply focused that would pump some spending power into the hands of consumers hit hard by the credit crunch and rising energy costs while extending unemployment and food stamp benefits to those who have been hurt by the sliding economy.

We don''t want to sound too idealistic about this, but it may be that Congress and the White House were less interested in scoring quick political points than in doing something about an economy that may have gone from a slowdown to an abrupt halt.

But the idealistic spirit hasn''t reached all corners. Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore., was among those calling for more transportation spending, saying, "If you are going to borrow the money to give to people buy televisions made in China by stimulating consumption, I think you can better justify borrowing money to invest in public infrastructure."

The American Association of Airport Executives picked up the theme, with AAAE President Chip Barclay arguing that simply opening up airport spending could "make big strides in priming the nation''s economic pump and building critical airport infrastructure meant to alleviate air traveler woes."

As one state official told us, there are projects designed, approved and just waiting for funding.

Never mind the call just a week before for a serious debate and a national agreement on the important infrastructure needs of the country and how they affect the United States'' economic security. There may be $145 billion on the table - right now - and we''re ready to spend the money.

Supporters of investment in national infrastructure are right in their argument that the investment is critical to the nation''s economy. That''s as true for shippers as it is for their logistics providers and transportation carriers.

But the rush to seize the opportunity of a short-term economic stimulus package for a few favored spending programs fits too easily into the criticism that transportation programs are less about investment than they are about pure spending.

Transportation investment can, should and must be part of the country''s long-term economic health. But it also should be able to stand on its own, not fight for attention with unemployment benefits and a one-time tax rebate.