Pols and U.S. Chamber of Commerce on 2012 Infrastructure Funding

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As the presidential primaries advance, potholes and infrastructure are finally becoming part of the discussion.

Transportation Nation (TransportationNation.org) reports that a $325,000 television advertising campaign in favor of reinvestment in infrastructure may have pushed the issue into the campaign – and that at least one candidate is responding in the affirmative.

The group sponsoring the ads is Building America’s Future, a bipartisan organization chaired by former Pennsylvania Governor (D) Ed Rendell, current New York City (I) Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former California Governor (R) Arnold Schwarzenegger.

A bulk of that money, $250,000, was spent in New Hampshire, creating “some talk of infrastructure spending,” according to TransportationNation.org. “Though not much, and the issue didn’t make its way into any debates.”  The website suggests an additional $75,000 ad buy in South Carolina might yet be effective at raising the issue in the Palmetto State’s two primaries (January 16 and 19) preceding the primary vote there on January 21.

Leading GOP hopeful Mitt Romney already remarked on the issue in a town hall meeting in South Carolina in December: “We’re going to have to make an investment in our infrastructure and that’s a place where if we make that investment, it will pay a return.” He illustrated this point by outlining how dredging deepwater ports “can pay back the cost” with increased shipping capacity.

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D), a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, seems to be speaking for the Obama Administration in continuing to push for the national infrastructure bank, first proposed by the President in September 2011. The federally backed bank would channel private money to large infrastructure projects such as bridges, roads and mass transit. Gillibrand resurrected the concept when she spoke at a meeting of the Association for a Better New York, a business-labor-nonprofit organization, in January 2012.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce on highway funding in 2012

Meanwhile, Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, outlined five priorities for the Chamber in 2012, one of which was to rebuild infrastructure. “If Congress doesn’t act by March 21, the Highway Trust Fund would be cut by 35 percent,” he warned, referring to federal transportation funding (SAFTEA-LU), which currently amounts to $52 billion per year through short-term funding measures. The Chamber says that “as many as 1.9 million new jobs could be created if public-private partnerships could be expanded for transport projects,” according to a January 12, 2012 article in Logistics Management magazine.

“We haven’t had an increase in the federal fuel tax in 19 years,” the magazine reports Donohue saying, noting how the Chamber supports higher fuel taxes when those revenues are reserved for transport-only project. “It has got to happen. It is the simplest thing that makes us more competitive, makes us safer and creates a lot of jobs.”