With early voting set to start Tuesday (Oct. 2) to choose the next U.S. Infrastructure Steward-in-Chief, both President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney have taken their creds and their plans to the Rust Belt.
The White House
|President Obama has announced several recent infrastructure initiatives as part of his “We Can’t Wait” program.|
Infrastructure has not been a big campaign issue this year, despite a predicted multitrillion-dollar gap in investment and regular reports of deadly accidents at failing bridges, pipelines and tunnels.
Still, the issue remains critical in Ohio, where nearly one million residents have requested absentee ballots that will be mailed Tuesday, according to WDTN-TV in Dayton. That number was just over 720,000 a week earlier, said Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.
|Mitt Romney told a New Hampshire gathering last December that he doesn’t like borrowing, but he would do it for infrastructure.|
Last week, in separate interviews, the Cleveland Plain Dealer's editorial board sought to pin down the candidates on their infrastructure plans.
Gov. Mitt Romney
Romney, the Republican former governor of Massachusetts, said his infrastructure priorities would extend beyond urban centers.
"Our infrastructure's crumbling," Romney told the newspaper. "It was built in the 1950s and 1960s; it had an estimated 50-year life; and you're seeing a dramatic need to repair what we have and to expand our system to remove the choke points that are making it more difficult for our goods to travel across the nation."
The newspaper noted that Romney was “noncommittal” last year when asked by CNBC about a proposal by Obama to establish an infrastructure bank. At the time, Romney told CNBC that the idea "sounds like Fannie Mae" and that he didn't "want the government getting into more and more enterprises like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac," the government-sponsored companies that guarantee home loans.
Romney told the Plain Dealer that he favored public-private partnerships (P3) to fund transportation projects. He said such arrangements allowed entities to work together "to expand our infrastructure and then devote a stream of revenue to repay the public-private partnership."
The newspaper likened Romney’s approach to a recently announced plan by Ohio Gov. John Kasich to secure private-sector funding to eliminate construction delays for the state’s Innerbelt Bridge project, despite the Ohio Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) $1.6 billion budget hole. According to ODOT, the gap had forced the department to push back some of the state’s largest construction projects by decades.
Kasich has instructed ODOT to recruit a private-sector engineering, construction and finance team to pay for the estimated $332 million project up front. Kasich calls the deal a first for Ohio.
Obama told the newspaper that he favored an infrastructure bank, which backs private investments with public money. The idea was first proposed last year and has drawn bipartisan support.
Projects would be selected based on how they would boost a region or state. Obama acknowledged in his interview that “we haven’t gotten it instituted as robustly as we would like.”
Obama also noted the political jockeying that seems to permeate infrastructure decisions.
"There's always going to be some dividing up the pie," Obama said. "That's the nature of Congress. A member is going to want something in their district, and somebody who's on a committee is going to see if they can leverage a little bit more for themselves than somebody who's not on a committee. That's the way Congress works."
Asked how his administration would set those priorities, Obama said, “I think that increasingly not only experts, but also voters, recognize the old urban-suburban-exurban divide doesn’t really make sense anymore. When you look at states here in the Midwest, cities are the economic engines for the suburbs.”
Obama also called infrastructure an issue that should “ripe for compromise,” the newspaper said.
"Transportation is another good example," he said. "Historically that's never been a Democratic or Republican issue. Members of Congress like to build things and show up and cut ribbons. We've got a whole bunch of deferred maintenance right now, and the construction industry is still weak despite the fact that we're starting to see housing tick up."
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, U.S. infrastructure needs a five-year investment of $2.2 trillion to bring the nation’s infrastructure up to date.