Estimates for the economic damage resulting from Superstorm Sandy are circulating from $15 to $50 billion in damage. No formal assessments have been completed yet, and it’s likely that these are “repair” estimates that reflect the cost of cleaning up and repairing infrastructure back to its former state. A repair bill is likely to be much lower than the cost of hardening and improving vital transport, energy and communication systems to withstand more storms like Sandy or worse. After Hurricane Katrina, architect Frederic Schwartz wrote:
The latest item atop Congress’s list of stuff to haggle over is the transportation bill, legislation the Washington Post calls the “best bet for passage of a major jobs bill this year.” The threat of the expiration of authority to spend money from the Highway Trust Fund at the end of the month is motivating House and Senate leaders to reach a compromise in the coming days. Although there are certainly investments to be made in our transportation infrastructure that would contribute to America’s economic competitiveness, it’s a shame that our energy infrastructure has received such scant attention from lawmakers.
Infrastructure is an important contributor to full employment, and an efficient network of roads, mass transit and water systems is critical for economic vitality. In 2009, the American Society of Civil Engineers issued a report card showing that the U.S. needed to spend $2 trillion over a five-year period for its infrastructure to be upgraded to “good.” That’s about $1.4 trillion more than the U.S. spent on capital improvements to infrastructure over the five-year period from 2003 to 2007. Where could this new funding come from?
Is the Ricketts family of Chicago bipolar? The patriarch, billionaire and Chicago Cubs owner Joe Ricketts, blasted onto the national stage yesterday, when the New York Times reported that his super PAC considered running an ad campaign entitled “The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good.” His super PAC, the Ending Spending Action Fund, also lobbies against excessive federal spending and special-interest earmarks.
There is a general consensus that America needs both new infrastructure and more jobs. Where there’s disagreement is over what role the federal government should play in providing the necessary funding to jump-start new projects. In a recent webinar, Standard & Poor’s laid out the current types of financing available for surface transporation projects (page 3):
Across the nation cash-strapped municipalities are considering the sale of their public-utility systems. These moves are intended to raise cash and rid the municipalities of expensive liabilities such as debt service and pension obligations. But officials considering this approach might do well to look to France and other nations that are rapidly moving in the opposite direction with a “remunicipalization” of their utility systems. In 2010, Paris, in the best known case of remunicipalization, ended contracts with the world’s two biggest water service companies, Suez and Veolia, bringing an end to their 100-year private duopoly. The reversal of a century-old practice in Paris was an acceleration of an international movement away from private control. Per remunicipalisation.org:
Two major American cities are embarking on large capital programs, but in very different ways. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has a $1.8 billion, five-year plan that he will fund with municipal bonds, while Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is trying to push a $7 billion plan, which will be paid for by private investors, through the city council. It would be hard to find to two more dissimilar approaches to rebuilding America’s urban infrastructure or two more different lists of who will reap the monetary benefit of the improvements.
Reuters ran a piece yesterday that caught my eye: “Macquarie eyes $2 billion North American infrastructure fund: sources.” According to the article, Macquarie, the Australian company active in infrastructure privatization, wanted to leverage its prior American success as it begins to raise funds:
Fracking is under increased scrutiny in the U.S. and in Australia, in the state of New South Wales. Both nations have undertaken studies to examine the effect of fracking on groundwater supplies. But there are other potential socialized costs that need to be included in these public studies, including the possible cost of wastewater treatment plants, damage to local roads, air and water pollution and the linkages to earthquakes. The costs of these possible side effects to local communities may exceed the gains they’ll receive from extraction royalties and increased tax revenues. We need some accounting.