A Game Plan for Infrastructure

By / 12.10.2009

A Game Plan for InfrastructureIt’s a sign of the times when “our bridges and roads are falling apart” gets cited as an issue more pressing than college football’s annoying Bowl Championship Series (BCS) on ESPN.

And, while the president hasn’t fulfilled his promise to set up an eight-team playoff yet, he’s taken the issue of infrastructure head-on. The administration’s focus on infrastructure investment is good for both long-term growth and generating jobs through the quick start-up of “shovel ready” projects.

However, one-time disbursements like those outlined in the Recovery Act or the president’s announcement earlier this week fall short of fixing more fundamental issues.

On the heels of Obama’s speech at Brookings on Tuesday, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) is at the same venue today pushing a much more sustainable approach.

Ellison is a co-sponsor on Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s (D-CT) National Infrastructure Development Bank Act, a good start on developing sustainable infrastructure funding the country so desperately needs.

DeLauro and and Ellison’s bill builds on the work of a bipartisan commission chaired by former Sen. Warren Rudman (R-NH) and titan of finance Felix Rohatyn. The bill envisions $5 billion a year from the federal government to capitalize the bank and a government debt guarantee of up to $50 billion.

But even Ellison and DeLauro’s idea can be improved upon. As outlined in Jessica Milano’s PPI policy memo, “Building our 21st Century Infrastructure,” an American Infrastructure Bank (AIB) seeded with a one-time investment at the federal level — a potential use for the TARP funds the president announced this week — and stakeholder buy-ins from the states would be a more effective way to fund a bank dedicated to financing infrastructure programs.

An infrastructure bank would offer a way to leverage much larger private sector investments from a strapped public budget. The bank would raise inexpensive funding for infrastructure projects by issuing debt on the capital markets backed by the U.S. government’s credit rating. By backing these bonds with the revenue or assets of the projects they are financing, taxpayers would not be left to pick up the bill. These projects would be determined according to strict criteria that promote economic development while being fiscally and environmentally sound.

After the President’s remarks on Tuesday, Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania — an infrastructure bank supporter — said the president had “essentially” endorsed the idea of an AIB. But while the president sounded open to the idea this week, he hasn’t gotten behind the legislation needed to get it done. President Obama endorsed an infrastructure bank back when he was candidate Obama. But, much like his promise of reforming the BCS, this threatens to become another campaign promise that falls by the wayside. Now’s the moment for the president to come off the sidelines and lead a sustained drive down the field.