Infrastructure Bank Plan Gaining Attention And Momentum

In today’s New York Times, columnist Bob Herbert spotlights the congressional proposal for a National Infrastructure Development Bank that would issue bonds, make loans and create securities to help finance needed rebuilding projects around the country. As Herbert put it:

rosa.jpgRep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) (Photo: America2050 via Flickr)

[T]here was a development in Congress last week that
should have been seen as significant but could not elbow its way into
the media precincts obsessed with Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney and swine
flu.

Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat,
introduced a bill to establish a national infrastructure development
bank that would use public and private capital to fund projects of
regional and national significance. These are projects that are badly
needed and would be a boon to employment.

DeLauro’s plan would give the final say over which transportation, energy and telecom projects receive assistance from the development bank to an independent board of directors. Separate risk management and audit committees would keep an eye on the bank’s balance sheet, which would get a $5 billion annual infusion of taxpayer money to help attract more capital from private investors.

The development bank has won backing from a collection of strange political bedfellows, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO and Felix Rohatyn, the investment-banking magnate who helped New York City avert insolvency in the 1970s.

Still, the risk-management aspect of the plan appears particularly crucial. Why? The development bank would be able to "purchase and sell infrastructure-related loans and securities on the global capital market," according to DeLauro’s summary. That phrase sounds innocuous enough, but several communities that issued infrastructure-related bonds to pay for recent improvement projects have found themselves facing bankruptcy after making risky bets to help keep pace with fluctuating interest rates.

With the municipal bond market on shaky ground right now, it’s easy to envision the infrastructure bank taking — to use a euphemism — creative measures on the market to help convince private investors to participate. It’s important, therefore, for the bank to ensure states and localities aren’t getting talked into overly complex financing arrangements.

Does the infrastructure bank proposal have a real future in Congress? Its current 27 co-sponsors in the House are all Democrats, but former GOP senator Chuck Hagel signed onto a similar plan in 2007, and its appeal is undeniably bipartisan. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also has spoken approvingly of the bank, meaning that it has a strong chance of appearing in the federal transportation bill slated for introduction this summer.

So Herbert could soon get his wish for more media coverage of DeLauro’s proposal … if the House pushes forward to a final vote on its transportation bill.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

STREETSBLOG USA

As Geithner Touts Infrastructure, Skepticism Persists on $4B ‘I-Fund’ Plan

|
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, considered a skeptic of transportation stimulus spending by some lawmakers, yesterday joined two other White House economic advisers in endorsing new infrastructure investment as a means to jump-start the economy. Geithner (l.) said that there is "a very good economic case" for infrastructure spending. (Photo: WaPo) But the president’s proposed $4 […]

Oberstar’s New Transportation Bill: Get the Highlights

|
Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN), the House transportation committee chairman, is set to brief reporters this afternoon on his $450 billion, six-year federal transportation bill — which he plans to pursue regardless of the Obama administration’s push for an 18-month extension of existing law. House Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) has a brewing battle with […]
STREETSBLOG USA

Specter of Gas Tax Lingers as Rendell, Villaraigosa Push Infrastructure Bank

|
Gov. Ed Rendell (D-PA) and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D), two of the nation’s best-known advocates for greater investment in the built environment, today joined several House Democrats in calling for federal action on a National Infrastructure Bank (NIB) — even as questions about the bank’s scope, and Congress’s resistance to raising sustained new […]

From Denver: Dems Discuss Funding Woes; Biden Says “Amtrak”

|
Last night saw what might one day qualify as an historic moment in transportation circles, as vice presidential candidate Joe Biden used the "A"-word during his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Denver. From a transcript of Biden’s address, via CNN: You know, John McCain is my friend. And I know you hear that […]