U.S. leaders say more infrastructure spending needed
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The governor of America's largest state and the mayor of its largest city called on the federal government on Sunday to dramatically boost its spending on bridges, sewers, high-speed rail and other infrastructure.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, along with Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" the United States needs to spend up to $1.6 trillion to make up for decades of neglect and stay globally competitive.
"In order for the economy to thrive and live up to 100 percent of its potential, you need to move people and goods around very quickly, and so if that falls behind then the economy falls behind," said Schwarzenegger, a Republican.
The $787 billion stimulus package signed into law last month includes $80.5 billion to fix roads, bridges, mass transit and waterways. President Barack Obama also put $72.5 billion for transportation spending in his budget proposal for 2010.
But those figures are far short of the $2.2 trillion that the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates is needed to repair highway, transit and water projects after years of neglect, let alone new projects like high-speed rail.
The three leaders said Obama seemed supportive when they met with him at the White House on Friday.
"The president wants this done," Bloomberg, a political independent, said.
Obama has proposed $5 billion in seed money for an infrastructure bank with an independent board to pay for capital projects. He is expected to explain his complete transportation plan in April.
Obama faces growing public disgust with the mounting cost of the financial industry bailout at a time when he also is planning an expensive overhaul of the healthcare system and new environmental restrictions.
But the three leaders said taxpayers would support additional infrastructure spending because it delivers tangible benefits. Breached levees in Iowa and New Orleans and the 2007 Minneapolis highway bridge collapse vividly illustrate the perils of allowing infrastructure to crumble, they said.
"The American people aren't against spending, they're against spending they can't see," said Rendell, a Democrat. "If we do it right the American people will not only be able to see it, they'll be able to touch it."
They said the government should try to attract private investors to help pay for new projects, but they did not rule out raising gasoline taxes if necessary.
(Editing by Eric Beech)