February 18, 2011
ED RENDELL, FORMER GOVERNOR OF PENNSYLVANIA AND CO-CHAIR OF BUILDING AMERICA’S FUTURE:
America’s infrastructure is crumbling right before our eyes, and yet its repair and revitalization do not appear to be a top priority for Congress and even for the American people. The proponents of infrastructure investment have yet to close the sale with the American people, and time is running short.
If the American public can be persuaded, then there is hope that the reauthorization of SAFETEA-LU, which is almost certain to occur sometime in the next two years, will create significant pathways for major investment in our transportation infrastructure. Such legislation could be a precursor for other infrastructure legislation regarding water and wastewater, broadband, dams and levees, and the electric grid.
There is reason to believe that the American people — under the right circumstances — will support such substantial investment. The November 2010 election was dominated by anti-spending and deficit-reduction fervor. Notwithstanding, 61% of the ballot initiatives asking voters to approve new taxes or tolling or additional borrowing for specific transportation projects were approved with an overwhelming 64% of the vote. This on the heels of the voters of Los Angeles county in 2009 voting 2-to-1 to raise their sales tax by a half a cent for transportation projects.
The voters did this for specific projects as opposed to a general increase in funding. That’s consistent with a poll taken by Building America’s Future (BAF) that found voters willing to spend more on infrastructure but only if they could be assured that spending decisions would be transparent and based on real cost-benefit analysis, as opposed to the normal political process.
All of this is why BAF and I believe that any significant and robust transportation investment legislation must be accompanied by the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank (NIB), as the President recently proposed. The NIB would have a board of transportation and finance experts who would determine which major projects received funding, based on criteria Congress would set forth in legislation. The NIB is essential to gaining the public’s confidence and support. The appropriators won’t like it — but it is nonetheless essential to gaining public approval for a major level of investment.
Granted, the NIB would only decide on significant projects of regional or national significance. Congress would still appropriate formulaic block grants to the states for their basic needs. The NIB’s funding would come from bonding (President Obama proposed an initial $25 billion), TIFIA, private activity bonds, and leveraged private investment. The bank would issue grants, loans, guarantees, and credits. As such, it would be the best vehicle to channel the nearly $200 billion of private funding that experts say is waiting to be invested in the nation’s infrastructure.
Our nation stands at a seminal moment: Will we follow the President’s lead and invest significantly in an infrastructure to increase our competitiveness? A National Infrastructure Bank will make it far more likely that the American people will answer, “Yes.”
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About Building America’s Future
Building America’s Future (www.BAFuture.org) is a bipartisan and national infrastructure coalition comprised of state and locally elected officials to help secure a renewed and reformed federal commitment to infrastructure. Co-chaired by Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I-NYC), former governors Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) and Ed Rendell (D-PA), Building America’s Future is dedicated to smart infrastructure investment – energy systems, roads and bridges, mass transit, water and sewer systems, rail, ports, airports, levees and dams, schools and housing – to enhance the quality of life and safety of our communities, create jobs and economic growth, and promote energy independence. Building America’s Future supports a reformed and robust transportation policy for the United States.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Co-Chair and Former Governor Ed Rendell Calls for National Infrastructure Bank In Online Forum