By David Pendered
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed on Wednesday strongly endorsed one of President Obama’s domestic proposals, even as it has been swept from the stage by debate over budget cuts known as the sequester.
During Obama’s State of the Union message, the president reintroduced the idea of repairing the nation’s transportation infrastructure. The plan is to fix worn roads, bridges, ports, water and sewerage, and transit – and to pay for the upgrades with measures including a national infrastructure bank.
Reed has counted on federal support to help pay for some of the $922 million backlog in Atlanta’s infrastructure needs. Reed remains bullish on the president’s proposal, despite the relative silence about it since the president’s speech on Feb. 12.
The mayor said Wednesday through his spokeswoman, Sonji Jacobs Dade, that he:
- “Supports President Obama’s proposal to help fund much-needed infrastructure repair work in cities and states across the nation. The city of Atlanta is about halfway through a $4 billion sewer and water repair project and has an infrastructure backlog of more than $900 million.”
That $900 million-plus is an enormous sum, six times greater than the city’s sweeping effort to repair its infrastructure before the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. That repair package came with a price tag of $150 million, paid for through bonds approved by Atlanta voters in a referendum.
Dade’s message from the mayor continued:
- “A national infrastructure bank that has the ability to leverage private and public capital to support infrastructure projects would help make our nation stronger and create well-paying jobs.”
Among the challenges facing the creation of a national infrastructure bank is one of sponsorship. The two senators who sponsored legislation to form a bank have left the chamber – John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, is now secretary of state, and Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican who didn’t seek reelection in 2012. No other flag bearers have come forward.
Another issue is whether Congress has an appetite for increased spending at a time all eyes are on cost-cutting proposals. The White House issued a statement that outlines some details of the proposal. The statement does not indicate a pathway to getting it enacted.
Here are some highlights of the infrastructure bank, according to the White House statement. The bank will:
- Be able to leverage private and public money to promote projects of national and regional significance;
- Be able to invest through loans and loan guarantees;
- Operate as, “an independent, wholly owned government entity outside of political influence.”
This isn’t the only funding source proposed by the president.
Another leg of the proposed funding platform is a bond program named America Fast Forward (AFF bonds). This program would be styled after the Build America Bonds (BABs) that provided more than $181 billion into public infrastructure as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, according to the White House statement.
The third and final leg of Obama’s infrastructure funding proposal is the federal transportation funding act, known as TIFIA – Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. Congress greatly expanded the credit program, which leverages federal funds with private investments to build transportation projects that are nationally significant.