February 9, 2009 / 11:20 PM / in 9 years

US Sen. Dodd says infrastructure bank still viable

WASHINGTON, Feb 9 (Reuters) - The United States Senate could pass a bill to found a national infrastructure bank in the next 12 months, said Democrat Chris Dodd, who chairs the Banking Committee, on Monday.

“President Obama co-sponsored our infrastructure bank legislation as a senator and endorsed the idea during his campaign. So, I‘m hopeful to see action on the bill this year,” Dodd said.

For more than a year bills to create a bank that would fund roads and capital works projects with a combination of seed money from the federal government and bond financing have sat in both houses of the U.S. Congress.

The idea has recently fallen to the shadows as Americans turn their attention to boosting infrastructure in the economic recovery bill the Senate will likely vote on on Tuesday. But the Connecticut Senator said the bank, which would have an independent board to decide which projects receive backing, was still a viable idea.

“A national infrastructure bank would ensure that important projects receive funding -- creating a new funding stream and competitive process for wastewater systems or any other project that offers the greatest economic and environmental benefits that no community can afford to rebuild on its own,” he said in a speech at North Carolina State University.

“The Infrastructure Bank would encourage regional approaches to infrastructure needs, encouraging private sector participation to fund big projects outside of formulas,” he also said according to a copy of the speech.

Many have raised the issue that various infrastructure endeavors, such highways, already have their own federal agencies and funding sources. They have asked if those agencies would have to compete with a bank.

When it comes to the Highway Trust Fund, which is backed by taxes on gasoline and which has recently been drawn down, the bank will not provide any competition, Dodd said. Instead, he said, a “floating gas tax that sets a floor for the price of gas” could provide a steady stream of dollars for repairing roads.

Reporting by Lisa Lambert

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