Dodd and DeLauro Vow to Get Infrastructure Bank Done This Year

Supporters from every corner of the transportation universe joined Gov. Ed Rendell (D-PA), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) today at a press event aimed at jumpstarting a National Infrastructure Bank (NIB), which the two Connecticut lawmakers vowed to steer to passage this year.

20080113rad_rendell_330.jpgGov. Ed Rendell (D-PA), above, founded BAF with the mayor of New York and the governor of California. (Photo: Post-Gaz.)

Dodd, who chairs the Senate Banking Committee and has announced his retirement as of 2011, said today that he is "determined, in these remaining 12 months, to do everything I can to make sure [the NIB] becomes the law of the land."

DeLauro's NIB bill, which boasts 44 cosponsors in the House, would set up the bank as a government-owned entity with its own board of directors. The NIB could issue bonds, borrow money, and lend the interest it earns on financed debt to encourage public-private partnerships on projects ranging from transit to broadband to clean energy.

A Senate version has yet to emerge, but Dodd has spearheaded similar legislation in the past and said today that he plans to move quickly, holding a hearing in the Banking panel next month.

In addition, Rendell told Streetsblog Capitol Hill in December that he believes the NIB could advance as part of the Obama administration's broader job-creation effort.

The Pennsylvanian's infrastructure advocacy group, Building America's Future, marshaled groups as disparate as Transportation for America, AASHTO, the liberal Campaign for America's Future, and the libertarian Reason Foundation to sign onto the NIB push.

"From mass transit to water development systems, we are still reaping the benefits of massive infrastructure investments," DeLauro said today, adding that a similar bank in Europe lent more than $80 billion in 2008.

Dodd and DeLauro's enthusiasm gives the NIB an undeniable leg up in a year that could see Democrats narrow their focus to legislation with a chance of securing bipartisan backing. But significant hurdles remain, including differences of opinion over the best vehicle for, and the long-term effects of, the Bank.

The first question mark is the stance of House and Senate appropriators, who declined to heed the White House's calls for a $5 billion capitalization of an NIB in their 2010 transportation bill.

The appropriators, known to zealously protect their power over the federal purse, noted last month that the "complexity" of the NIB plan makes it due for a stand-alone authorization bill, which could require carving out significant space in an already-crowded Senate calendar.

DeLauro said she was open to examining any option for moving forward with the NIB. "Above all, the focus is on [creating] a singular entity that would be able to go to the capital markets and attract substantial private investment," she said, in areas beyond transportation.

Rendell, for his part, said he would prefer to see a stand-alone NIB.

Another hiccup could come from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), whose influential panel could assert jurisdiction over the NIB. Baucus is on record as a critic of the proposal. "I think that bank idea will rob the future growth of the highway program," he said during an environment committee hearing in April.

Finally, cities in sore need of a transit funding boost may find the NIB less attuned to their needs for yet another reason -- the NIB is not particularly geared to attracting private investment without the potential to turn a profit.

Speakers at today's event avoided the question of how transportation plans apart from toll roads could take advantage of the format. "There are projects that won't have a commercial application simply because of the nature of the project," former House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt said.