Infrastructure funding proposals gain strength: bonds not bailouts, accountability and local control

Ah-nold wants you to know he’s pumped about the future of infrastructure spending.


Governor’s Schwarzenegger along with Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, New YorkCity Mayor Michael Bloomberg and pollster Frank Luntz held a press conference yesterday to announce the results of poll commissioned by Building America’s Future. The poll found 81 percent of Americans surveyed were willing to pay an additional 1 percent in taxes to rebuild our infrastructure. Additionally, two-thirds of Americans surveyed were either extremely or very concerned about the condition of America’s infrastructure.


The poll  also strengthens support for a proposal President Elect Obama offered on the campaign trail last winter, that of a national infrastructure bank that would fundamentally change the way the federal government supports infrastructure building.


Speaking of the 81-percent figure Luntz said: “You know you’ve got as close to universal support as you’ll ever get for any issue.” Luntz said that democrat and republican voters supported the idea in equal measure and that it ranked as important to them as health care and education.


“People are worried about what they’ve seen in Minneapolis with the bridge collapsing and in New Orleans the way it was wiped out because of the lack of infrastructure,” said Schwarzenegger. “We need to rebuild America.  People are angry that there is so little action on the national level. People don’t want to see our country deteriorate slowly.”


A key finding in the poll, however, is that the public wants the government to change the way it doles out dollars for infrastructure. “The attributes they are looking for in all of this are accountability, transparency, oversight and measurable results,” Luntz said.


In other words, let the federal government set up the infrastructure bank, but push the decisions, oversight and accountability down to the states and cities.


“We’ve been building bridges to nowhere for much too long and we can no longer afford that,” said Bloomberg “I think the solution is that we have to spend money but we have to spend it more intelligently. The public wants accountability. We have to move the selection of the projects down the food chain to where the elected officials who make the decisions actually need. That gets down to the cities and states and not at the federal level. You would not have the bridge to nowhere if some municipality or state had to pay for it.”


The poll also showed that the public defines its infrastructure needs as more than roads and bridges. They also want improvements in the power grid, water and sewer systems, schools, hospitals, libraries and other public buildings as well.


Schwarzenegger, Rendell and Bloomberg, who are also co-chairs of the Build America coalition, urged Obama to pass an infrastructure stimulus bill as soon as possible and aim the early efforts at projects that are ready to go. California has more than $40 billion in projects teed up, said Schwarzenegger. “People don’t want just talk on infrastructure,” he said. They want to see the cranes, the action, people at work, cement being poured, steel being laid. People don’t mind paying taxes if they get a bang for their buck.”


Rendell added that the infrastructure stimulus plan, in whatever form it takes, shouldn’t be looked at as a short-term jobs program, but as a long term commitment to the economic health of the country. “This is only one step in repairing and revitalizing America’s infrastructure,” he said. “Building America’s future wants everyone to know that we have to commit the next 5 to 10 years to a significant, long-term infrastructure revitalization program that in my judgment can only be funded by a federal capital budget.”


The federal capital budget idea dovetails with Obama’s earlier proposal of a federal infrastructure bank that would permit the federal government to issue bonds for long term infrastructure projects (like cities and states do already) instead of the current pay-as- you-go-system. “You can’t budget infrastructure the same way the federal government buys paperclips,” Rendell said.


Having a federal capital budget would also ensure that the infrastructure funding requests would not compete for dollars with federal social programs like Medicare.






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