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America: The Land Paved With Red Tape

Thursday, 13 Oct 2011 | 3:50 PM ET

My daily commute consists of a slalom course of avoiding potholes. I’ve traveled and worked in every corner of the earth, yet I’ve seen roads in Beirut in better conditions … wartime Beirut, mind you.

Pothole
Jeff J Mitchell | Getty Images
Pothole

I complained to one of my local road authorities—the Palisades Interstate Parkway Commission, explaining the significance of their pothole-infested highway being a visitor’s first impression of New Jersey. They informed me that for several months, they have been waiting for state funds of $8 million to mill and pave the road but that it was tied up in red tape. Welcome to New Jersey, and many other states in this country whose roads are supposedly paved with gold.

The U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committeemet yesterday to consider a proposal built in to President Obama’s “American Jobs Act”that would set up a $10 billion fund specifically for infrastructure projects.

I’m all for infrastructure projects, but if New Jersey, the land of GOP darling Chris Christie is any indication, an infrastructure bank will only add red tape to an already glacially lethargic process.

Last night on "The Kudlow Report", we had on Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-Florida) and Committee Member Donna Edwards (D-Maryland). Rep. Mica noted on the air that 33 states already have infrastructure banks of their own. But, he adds, states such as Oklahoma don’t have the money.

“Why create a Washington bureaucracy? Let’s fund some of the existing infrastructure banks and then look at programs that work, like Transportation Infrastructure Financing Program we already have?,” he asked.

I couldn’t agree more.

Rep. Edwards countered by saying there was $2 trillion—with a T—in backup infrastructure needs. If that were the case, how would an additional bureaucracy, with only $10 billion in funding, help at all?

It just astounds me how the New York City subway system was constructed in the 1900s, 1920s and 1930s by putting thousands to work immediately. These structures have stood the test of time.

Here’s a scandalous notion: Maybe what the President should do is declare an economic emergency, invoke force majeure, and nullify all union contracts nationwide.

That might cause a nationwide revolt, especially among the President’s labor backers, but think about how bold this would be. If there is one thing that could spur instant—and I mean instant—infrastructure construction, it would be to revert back to the days of the construction of the subway. Road construction, bridge reconstruction, almost every infrastructure project could be fast-tracked and thousands would be instantly hired. That would spur the economy.

When President Obama unveiled the idea of an infrastructure bank, he said, "the idea for a big boost in construction is supported by America’s largest business organization and America’s largest labor organization. It’s the kind of proposal that’s been supported in the past by Democrats and Republicans alike. You should pass it right away."

Not so fast.

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  • Lawrence Kudlow is a CNBC senior contributor. Previously, Kudlow was anchor of CNBC's prime-time program "The Kudlow Report"