LA mayor brings infrastructure bank model to Washington

WASHINGTON, Sept 23 Thu Sep 23, 2010 5:10pm EDT

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WASHINGTON, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is on a mission to convince lawmakers, lobbyists and think tanks in the U.S. capital that his initiative to finance a new public transit project can reach beyond the City of Angels and become the blueprint for an infrastructure bank.

"I'm banging on the door," he told Reuters on Thursday after attending a conference between U.S. mayors and members of President Barack Obama's administration. Villaraigosa then headed to the Brookings Institution, a liberal-leaning think tank, to tout his initiative.

The mayor will be back in Washington next week to continue the sales pitch he started this spring for a concept called "30-10."

L.A. citizens voted to raise the city's sales tax to fund public transportation expansion, including a subway extension.

By trying to squeeze the 30-year project into a decade, the city can take advantage of currently low construction costs and avoid having to pay high compound interest, Villaraigosa has told hearings on Capitol Hill. In order to do that, however, the city is seeking federal help.

President Obama recently revived the idea of a national infrastructure bank that he first presented on the campaign trail. The bank would to create jobs, help a flagging economic recovery and repair the country's degraded infrastructure.

The Senate is currently considering Obama's proposal to create a bank with initial capital of $25 billion that would finance the highest-priority transportation and infrastructure projects through grants and loans.

For the last two years lawmakers have not been able to agree on basic ideas about the bank, debating everything from how it should operate to which projects would fall into the area of "infrastructure."

With historic federal deficits and little appetite in Congress to increase government spending, the government must reach for "creative, innovative financing mechanisms," Villaraigosa said.

His initiative could be used as a template for local governments to commit a certain portion of funds up front that are complemented by federal money. Cities could pay 70 percent and have the government contribute 30 percent, or the split could be closer to 90 percent and 10 percent, Villaraigosa said.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert)

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