Twitter was abuzz over a chart that was posted on FT’s Alphaville. Quack, quack, quack went Twitter, we need infrastructure spending to boost the economy! Of course nobody mentioned that Republicans, who recently shut down Congress to prove a point, are loath to increase spending. So where could additional money for infrastructure spending come from?
Here is a quick summary of possibilities.
The U.S. government: The likelihood of increased federal spending on infrastructure is almost zero, unless Congress wants to raise the federal gasoline tax. Congress has not increased the gas tax since 1993, not even to keep up with inflation.
State and local municipal bond issuance: This is where the bulk of current infrastructure spending comes from today. Municipal budgets have been constrained. New municipal bonds issued through the end of October fell 14.9 percent to $262.85 billion, according to Thomson Reuters. It’s not likely that state and local governments have significant balance sheet capacity to issue more debt. Here is the current outstanding municipal debt and how it is distributed (source: Sifma):
Public Private Partnership (P3s): Although a lot of positive press has been generated for P3s as a way to fund infrastructure, they have little track record to show efficiencies or savings. Ryan Holeywell of Governing.com separates the value from the hype of P3s:
[A] recent report from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s inspector general said unambiguously that P3s are unlikely to reduce the infrastructure funding gap, since they don’t increase funding levels. The only way P3s could be seen as generating revenue for state and local governments, the report concluded, is through whatever savings they might achieve through lower construction costs. But even those aren’t certain.