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Bloomberg Testifies Before Congress on Infrastructure Crisis


Last Thursday, Mayor Bloomberg testified before the Senate Banking Committee about the state of the nation’s infrastructure. “We are facing an infrastructure crisis in this country that threatens our status as an economic superpower - and threatens the health and safety of the people we serve,” he said. Bloomberg testified in favor of the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank that would issue up to $60 billion in tax credit bonds for infrastructure projects throughout the country. Earlier this year Bloomberg founded the Building America’s Future coalition with Governor Schwarzenegger of California and Governor Rendell of Pennsylvania.

Last week’s passage of the Amtrak reauthorization bill holds some promise for more federal funding for Moynihan Station, but the fact remains that state and local governments are responsible for three out of every four dollars spent on public infrastructure. New York City alone “needs $29.5 billion just in the next five years to continue to bring our mass transit system up to a state of good repair and to expand capacity to meet expected demand,” according to Bloomberg.

Here are some excerpts from his testimony:

To remain the world's economic superpower, we must build the infrastructure to support strong and sustained growth. And that means, very simply, things have got to start changing in Washington.

I hope 2009 will be a watershed year. The expiration of the current transportation bill will allow for a new debate on our infrastructure needs. I would hope and expect that it will focus on two issues: first, what should be the role of the federal government in our transportation system; and second, how we are going to pay for everything we know we need. And there are a few principles that I believe should guide the discussion:

First, we need to set clear goals - both for the short-term and long-term - and clear metrics for measuring success. Right now, we have no coherent national transportation policy. It's just a grab bag of programs with no goals that correspond to national priorities, such as reducing our dependence on oil and cutting our greenhouse gas emissions. We also lack performance standards to ensure we can meet our goals, which is just basic accountability. And we lack incentives that encourage cities and states to be more efficient, which is a basic idea of market economics. These practices are straight from Management 101, and we need to put them to work when it comes to transportation.

Second, we need to dramatically increase funding to help achieve our goals. Infrastructure costs money. But polls show that people are willing to pay for it - if they know they will benefit from it. Voters are smarter than politicians give them credit for being. They know there's no free lunch. But if they're paying for sirloin, they don't want to get served a bunch of baloney. To create the new funding we need, all options should be on the table, including general revenue, user fees, gas taxes, and public-private partnerships.

Third, we need to fund projects based on merit, not politics. One of the most promising concepts is the one introduced by Senators Dodd and Hagel: a national infrastructure bank. The bank would create an independent and nonpartisan entity that would fund the most vital needs - not the most parochial pork-barrel projects.

The bank's nonpartisan structure would also help us achieve the first principle I mentioned: instilling clear performance standards and accountability measures into projects.

These three principles are not Democratic or Republican. They are simply basic ideas that anyone serious about addressing our national infrastructure crisis should be able to support.

Money for Infrastructure

I think it is great that some politicians are finally addressing this problem. And, while issuing tax credit bonds may be a good way to generate the money required to fund the infrastructure projects, they will have to be paid back.

With the country sagged down by so much war debt where exactly does Bloomberg propose the money needed to make good on the bonds will come from?