On Sunday, February 16, 2020, University of Nevada, Las Vegas hosted the first presidential candidate forum on infrastructure. Former Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Amy Klobuchar, & Tom Steyer shared their perspectives, plans and strategies in addressing the aging infrastructure, jobs, and building a better America. There were five younger members and three students volunteering at this event. This innovative forum was moderated by Jerry Seib, Executive Washington Editor of The Wall Street Journal, and Jeanne Cummings, Deputy Washington Bureau Chief of The Wall Street Journal. The moderators interviewed the candidates individually before a live audience in 20-25 minutes sessions.
The presidential candidates had the opportunity to address their priorities and challenges facing the aging infrastructure including roads, bridges, transit, railroads, airport, water and wastewater systems. They laid out their vision, plans and strategies for an infrastructure that improves safety and national security, as well as supporting a strong economy. All four candidates emphasized on the importance of repair and maintenance of existing infrastructure, as well as utilizing the emerging technology for a smarter and more sustainable system. However, none explicitly addressed raising the federal fuel tax as a strategy and identified it as a politically sensitive subject.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ infrastructure report card, the nation earned a D+ for the status of the aging infrastructure with an estimated $2 trillion funding gap for the infrastructure needs. To fill this gap, Biden explained that his plan would be to reverse Trump administration tax cuts on corporations. Klobuchar, on the other hand, is planning on addressing this funding gap through a series of corporate tax reforms. Steyer explained that his strategy would be to raise taxes on certain businesses and consumer, and Buttigieg is planning to use a charge system, such as vehicle-miles-traveled fee and potentially replacing the fuel tax.
While all candidates expressed interest to streamline the permitting process, each expressed a unique approach in streamlining infrastructure projects. Biden explained that he would employ dedicated staff for this purpose and will ensure the process takes the environmental factors into account. Klobuchar’s approach will have a focus on streamlining the regulations with a focus on maintaining safety standards, Steyer highlighted his focus on prioritizing climate changes, and Buttigieg will achieve this by focusing on smarter solutions such as data.
In addition, utilizing technology for both roadways and wastewater management, enhancing transit systems, airport betterment and public transportation projects are among top priorities on all four candidates’ agendas. This event was organized by the non-partisan group, United for Infrastructure, and the host committee includes the International Union of Operating Engineers; Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO; North America's Building Trades Unions; Transport Workers Union of America; American Society of Civil Engineers; American Public Transportation Association; American Council of Engineering Companies; American Road and Transportation Builders Association; Value of Water Campaign; Association of Equipment Manufacturers; Airports Council International-North America; and Build Together.
The Las Vegas Younger Member Forum (LV YMF) of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) promotes and enhances the civil engineering profession within the public community, by providing younger members and students with opportunities for professional and leadership development, networking, and community service in a social environment that allows "engineers" to express themselves.