The ink was scarcely dry on President Obama’s record $3.2 billion proposal to overhaul the nation’s infrastructure, when friends and foes began lining up—and in some unusual ways.
First, three Republican governors spurned their state’s share of the federal funds proposed for high-speed rail. Then labor and business made a joint appearance before Congress to advocate for the bill.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Florida Gov. Rick Scott all declined the rail packages proposed for their states as economically unsound.
‘A Recipe for Disaster’
“The truth is that this project would be far too costly to taxpayers and I believe the risk far outweighs the benefits,” Scott said in prepared remarks.
“Higher taxes and more government spending is a recipe for disaster. Government has become addicted to spending beyond its means and we cannot continue this flawed policy.”
“President Obama’s high-speed rail program is not the answer to Florida’s economic recovery.”
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood expressed disappointment but said the money and rail projects would be welcomed in other states.
Obama proposed the $3.2 billion in funding for 28 transit construction projects as part of his FY 2012 $129 billion budget for the U.S. Department of Transportation—a 68% increase over the projected spending for the current fiscal year.
The $129 billion would be the first installment in a six-year, $556 billion plan that would also include $30 billion in spending on a new National Infrastructure Bank and $53 billion on high-speed and intercity rail.
House Republicans are opposed to high-speed rail and have proposed to cut $1 billion from Obama’s request for the current fiscal year.
LaHood called the DOT budget plan “a targeted investment in America’s economic success.”
“If we’re going to win the future, we have to out-compete the rest of the world by moving people, goods, and information more quickly and reliably than ever before,” LaHood said. “President Obama’s investments in rebuilding our crumbling roadways and runways, and modernizing our railways and bus systems will help us do just that.”
‘Felix and Oscar’ on the Hill
The infrastructure proposal does have supporters. The plan drew a rare joint appearance and show of support before Congress by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donohue. The two longtime adversaries had earlier released a joint statement in support of additional infrastructure investment.
On Wednesday, the two testified before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
"The fact that Tom Donohue and I appear before you today does not mean that hell has frozen over or that unicorns are roaming the land," Trumka said, to laughter from the panel.
He said that he and Donohue had “agreed to sit down and talk about ways that we can help U.S. manufacturing."
Donohue, who called Trumka and himself “the oddest couple since Felix and Oscar," said infrastructure spending was critical to economic stability and job growth.
"There needs to be a vigorous dialogue on funding and financing, but first we have to agree on the direction in which we're going," Donohue said. "Everyone needs to keep an open mind. ... We've got to avoid cutting off our nose to spite our face."
Senators on the panel were also largely in agreement on the need for investment in national infrastructure, The Washington Post reported.
Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, the committee’s ranking Republican, noted that he and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) were on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum but agreed on the need for infrastructure spending.
Inhofer and other Republicans have criticized Obama for not specifying how his $556 billion proposal would be paid for. They have also accused the administration of shortchanging roads, construction and infrastructure in the stimulus bill.
Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders was one of several lawmakers who noted that the United States spends 2.4% of its GDP on infrastructure, while China invests 9%.
"We have situations where trains go from Location A to Location B in a slower time than they did 50 years ago," Sanders said. "We're moving backwards, and the Chinese are building dozens of high-speed rails."
The infrastructure spending plan recommends investing $569.3 million in 10 new rail and bus rapid transit construction projects. An additional 11 projects that were recommended for funding in previous years, but have not yet received federal commitments, are also being recommended for $1.4 billion in this year’s budget.
All the recommendations are part of the FTA’s Annual Report on Funding Recommendations for Fiscal Year 2012, available online here.