Three infrastructure ideas that already have bipartisan support
Bipartisan cooperation may be a scarce commodity on Capitol Hill. But infrastructure is still one area where there’s a long history of support across the aisle — enthusiasm that’s continued even in the current political environment. Here are three such proposals that legislators are currently pushing, all of which have bipartisan backing — in the Senate, at least.
1) State-issued transportation bonds: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is pushing a proposal that would provide $50 billion in new funding for transportation infrastructure through bonds issued by state-level infrastructure banks. Called “Transportation and Regional Project Bonds” (TRIPs), the proposal has already attracted the support of Republican Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), a co-sponsor of the bill. TRIPs won’t require the creation of a new federal decision-making entity — a key Republican objection to the national infrastructure bank that Obama has supported. “TRIP Bonds represent a cost-effective, efficient way to leverage private-sector dollars to build the infrastructure so necessary to growing America’s economy and creating jobs,” Hoeven said in a July statement. The proposal bears some similarity to “Build America Bonds” initiative in the 2009 stimulus that reduced borrowing costs for state and local governments, but it places more caps and restrictions on the bond issues.
Bondholders would be given special tax credits, and states would still be required to come up with 20 percent of the costs. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates the proposal would cost $12.3 billion due to its tax credits, but Wyden says the price tag will ultimately drop to less than $2 billion through user fees generated by the projects. Wyden’s office says that TRIPs will make it easier to fund smaller-scale projects than some of the other proposal. “The infrastructure bank will go to really big projects — the Tappan Zee bridges of the world — it probably wouldn’t go to smaller projects, those in rural areas, Montana won’t see a whole lot coming out of that proposal,” a Wyden staffer tells me. “Ours is a more streamlined process... it’s a more decentralized version.” But it’s still uncertain if and when the Senate will take up Wyden’s bill.
2) Surface transportation grants: The first round of these grants were originally part of the stimulus, and the push to renew them has attracted bipartisan support once again in the Senate. Created by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the program authorizes the Department of Transportation to issue grants, direct loans and loan-guarantees to state and local governments, as well as transit agencies. It’s mostly surface transportation projects that are eligible — including highways, bridges, rail, and ports — through a competitive application process. Known as the TIGER Act (Transportation Infrastructure Grants and Economic Reinvestment), Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was an early supporter who’s now pushing Congress to reauthorize the money. “Safe and efficient transportation is essential to economic recovery and cannot be left solely to state governments, which are struggling with budget shortfalls,” Collins said in May. “The demand for this important funding is great.”
The Senate Democratic appropriations bill for 2012 — which is currently being debated on the floor — includes $550 million for TIGER grants, according to Murray’s office. It’s a small pot of money, relatively speaking, but supporters are still adamant about its economic and job-creating potential. “Clearly it is not funded at the same scale as some of the other big infrastructure ideas being discussed, but it has been in place since the Recovery Act and has funded projects and created jobs in states throughout the country,” says Eli Zupnick, press secretary for Murray. The proposal will still have to make its way through both the House and Senate’s budget negotiations to have a chance.
3) National Infrastructure Bank: This is the best-known and most controversial infrastructure proposal so far. President Obama included it in his jobs plan, taking cues from a bipartisan bill by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Tex.). Both proposals would use $10 billion in startup money to finance transportation, water, and energy projects through loan guarantees or long-term loans. A newly created national infrastructure bank would decide which projects to back, providing up to half of the financing, while private investors would fund the rest. As my colleague Brad has reported, the Obama administration estimates the proposal would jump-start $100 billion to $200 billion in construction projects.
House Republicans, however, have already insisted that the proposal is “dead on arrival,” as House Transportation chair John Mica said last week, and critics have already compared the proposal to a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac for infrastructure. Having vowed to bring up Obama’s jobs bill in smaller pieces, Majority Leader Harry Reid is likely to bring up the proposal in the Senate soon.