White House Tells Senate: Grants No Substitute For Infrastructure Bank

The White House has reiterated its commitment to a national infrastructure bank (NIB), urging the Senate to reconsider a 2010 transportation spending bill that would "substitute in its place" $1.1 billion in grants.

2003992830.jpgPatty Murray (D-WA) heads the Senate panel in charge of U.S. DOT spending. (Photo: Seattle Times)

In a statement of policy on the Senate’s transport spending bill, which is slated for floor debate starting Monday, the Obama administration noted that an NIB could provide not only grants but also credit-based financing such as loans and bonds:

The Administration encourages the Congress to support the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank and not substitute in its place a national infrastructure grant program … Once established, a Bank will help forge a new path forward in infrastructure sponsorship and cross-jurisdictional partnership.

The House’s 2010 transport spending bill allows half of its $4 billion in high-speed rail money to be transferred to an NIB, provided that such an entity is authorized by Congress next year. That remains an open question, given the strong likelihood of a delay in the next long-term transportation bill.

The $1.1 billion grant program included in the Senate’s spending bill follows a model similar to the $1.5 billion "TIGER" grants authorized by this year’s economic stimulus law. The TIGER funding is open to proposals in any transport mode — from rail to ports to cycling — and will be distributed early next year by the U.S. DOT based on economic and environmental merit, as well as other factors.

While Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has spoken often of the flood of interest generated by the TIGER money, the White House’s statement makes clear that it has not abandoned the push for an NIB.

One crucial decision on the NIB, meanwhile, has yet to be made: whether it will be housed within the U.S. DOT, as House transport committee chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) has suggested, or set up as an independent entity, as Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) proposed in her NIB legislation.

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