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Public investment
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

"We are all Keynesians now." — Richard Nixon

A group of Utah business leaders has determined that public funds spent on public projects come back to the benefit of the public in more ways than one. That a few billion dollars poured into highway and public transit projects would not only improve everyone's ability to get around, it would also provide a boost to the economy that would create jobs, stimulate business growth and even increase average household income.

Stating the obvious has its good points. Especially in a state where political pressures are more likely to move elected officials to avoid expensive investments so they can brag about tax cuts that, in the long run, actually hurt the state and its people.

Of course, in Utah, lawmakers are often clear-eyed about the economic benefits of transportation (usually, highway) spending, even as they are willfully blind to similar returns to society that accrue from spending money on social welfare, medical care and, especially, education.

According to a professional study commissioned and released the other day by the Salt Lake Chamber's new Utah Transportation Coalition, an investment of $11.3 billion — which just happens to be the amount of the shortfall between projected transportation needs and projected income — would turn over in the state economy enough times to come out as 182,000 new jobs, $130 billion more in household income and $22 billion in state and local tax revenues.

There is, of course, no reason to doubt the Chamber's findings. Money poured into useful projects repays itself many times over by multiplying as it moves through the economy. In the case of road and transit spending, the ripple effect is particularly strong, with better access, less time spent in traffic jams and smoother flows of commerce.

And many of the same people who are promoting the idea of spending more money on transportation — perhaps by increasing the state motor fuel tax for the first time in 16 years — have also been heard to tout the widespread benefits that would accrue if Utah lawmakers would adequately fund public schools. Traditionally, though, convincing state officials of that has been a harder slog.

So here's the answer: Raise the fuel tax. Spend the money. Revel in the economic stimulus and count the increases in tax revenue generated by a stimulated economy. And earmark a good chunk of that money for public education.

That would be an investment that would do at least as much good as any number of highways or train tracks.

Money spent becomes money earned
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