In his State of the Union address, President Obama sketched a broad outline of the need to rebuild 70,000 “structurally deficient” bridges and other infrastructure in the country, but never got more specific. In a follow up, the White House announced the specifics of his infrastructure proposal.
The sum of his proposal, $50 billion, is barely enough to excite a huge amount of support or a significant fight in Congress. For 2013 the budget of the Department of Transportation is $98 billion. State and local governments issued $54 billion of municipal bonds to fund transportation last year. The president’s proposal is about 1/3 of current annual transportation spending, and he proposes no way to pay for it. It’s rhetorical fluff meant to sound good to voters, but it has little chance of going anywhere.
One part of the Obama proposal is a replay of his “National Infrastructure Bank,” which has been proposed twice and received no traction in Congress. The NIB would begin with $10 billion of federal funds to guarantee private investments made for public infrastructure. The main Senate sponsors – Massachusetts’ John Kerry and Texas’ Kay Bailey Hutchinson – have both left the Senate, and no sponsor has stepped forward to take over, according to Politico. It is unlikely that any prominent sponsor will step forward, seeing as the National Infrastructure Bank seems like a ruse to give public guarantees to private investors. Using the nation’s balance sheet to increase private profits would be a very unpopular political position to defend at election time. There are other concerns, which Politico details: