Sen. Barabara Boxer, D-Calif., on Tuesday warned a senior transportation official that there may not be Senate support for a national infrastructure bank, and encouraged the administration to be flexible in choosing other tools to finance future infrastructure projects.
Instead, Boxer, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, made a strong pitch for an expanded version of the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan.
"I'm telling you now, because it's important, you may not have the support for an infrastructure bank in other committees, so you need to be open to using your other tools such as TIFIA and making it function something like an infrastructure bank," Boxer told Roy Kienitz, Department of Transportation under secretary for policy.
Last week, Kienitz testified before the Senate Banking Committee. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the ranking Republican, expressed concern that an infrastructure bank would become a government-supported enterprise like Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, and the public would be stuck with the bill if it failed.
Kienitz told Boxer that the infrastructure bank factored into the administration's proposal for a new six-year transportation spending bill as an office within DOT to decide how to fund major transportation projects through combinations of grants and loans. Existing loan and grant programs are constrained by a single mode, where an infrastructure bank may straddle several modes.
"Supporters read everything into it they hope it would be, the skeptics read everything into it they fear it will be," Kienitz said of the infrastructure bank. "But in the future some portion of the federal program has to transition from pure formula into a discretionary program to pick out the best possible programs."
Boxer called the Los Angeles "30/10" program a model for TIFIA financing in the future. In 2008, county voters approved a half cent increase in sales taxes to dedicate to transportation projects. The tax is anticipated to create $40 billion in revenue, and allow projects that might take 30 years to be completed in 10. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa testified in favor or the program.
"The federal government could leverage state and local funding in a way that does not put our taxpayers at risk, accelerate projects, create jobs, and does it soon," she said.
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