A “Silent Crisis”, An Increase in Infrastructure Funds, A Little Fib About Broadband, and An Infrastructure Bank
The nation’s bridges, tunnels, and roads are facing a “silent crisis,” said Hillary Clinton last August, in Rochester, New Hampshire. “It’s a crisis with the potential of not only death and injury, property loss and other kinds of dangers and inconveniences, but it is imperative that we address this crisis for our economy.”
“Not only [the] bridge collapse in Minneapolis and the levies collapse in New Orleans,” she went on, forcing her point home, “but the collapse of the Big Dig tunnel ceiling, and the highway overpass that collapsed last week in California. This is a wake up call that is screaming.”
To address all this and protect existing infrastructure, she proposed an emergency fund of $10 billion dollars for everything from roads and bridges, to waterways and seaports; $250 million in emergency grants for states and localities to inspect their infrastructure; and the establishment of a commission to monitor and prioritize infrastructure management. She is already a co-sponsor of a bill which would establish that commission, called the National Infrastructure Improvement Act. The American Society of Civil Engineers, which periodically publishes a report card on the nation’s infrastructure, called the act “an essential step in revitalizing the nation’s weakening infrastructure.”
And to modernize America’s public transit systems, she proposed increasing funds by $1.5 billion a year and investing an additional $1 billion over five years in intercity passenger trains. She also pledged an addition $350 million a year to reduce traffic through the promotion of options like congestion pricing and telecommuting. When asked by the New York Sun whether conservative voters would support the price tag of these initiatives, the chairman of the Durham Democratic Committee, Timothy Ashwell, said: “They’ll pay the price if there’s value to it.”
As she stood in front of an audience of liberal bloggers at the Yearly Kos Convention that same month, she included virtual infrastructure with that list: “The very first bill I introduced when I became a senator was to expand broadband in underserved urban and rural areas in New York. Because there are places in New York City, and places in the suburbs and some of our cities upstate where, you know, you can get anywhere you need to get in milliseconds. Then there are places, where you know, you can’t.”
But while she has been persistent in trying to use legislation to spread broadband to rural areas, urban areas were never mentioned in any of those bills, including that first one she mentioned. Granted, she did announce that she secured $200,000 for WiFi in the city of Albany, as part of $600,000 in appropriations funds for the area that New York’s senior senator, Chuck Schumer, helped to secure. Some, however, might call that “pork”.
Finally, she noted that she is one of two co-sponsers of a bill (sponsored by her competitor, Christopher Dodd) that would create a “National Infrastructure Bank,” to be financed through the issuance of long-term public bonds sold to private investors. It would assist state and local governments, through direct subsidies and bonds, with the financing of infrastructure projects. The projects it would help with must cost over $75 million, be of national significance, and include urban land use policies, such as “smart growth” (although it doesn’t define that).
The bank act was widely lauded, and received support from such diverse groups as the National Construction Alliance, a coalition of unions, and Goldman Sachs, the investment bank. The National Urban League – seeing how they’ve also proposed an infrastructure bank – also liked the idea: “What it lacks compared to the NUL proposal is a provision ensuring that a percentage of contracts awarded by the projects go to minority- and women-owned firms and that a percentage of the workforce employed by contractors is economically disadvantaged. It also doesn’t cover infrastructure improvements to schools, parks and playgrounds. Still, the bill represents a strong starting point.”