Thursday, March 31, 2011

America Fast Forward and 30/10 Create a Moment of Unity Against a Backdrop of Divisiveness in Washington DC

Gloria Ohland captures the thoughts of Move LA Executive Director Denny Zane as he reflects on the significance of Wednesday’s press conference launching the national version of “30-10”:

 “The whole day was exceptional, but the press conference was a watershed moment. It was a gathering of bipartisan leadership — Republican Congressman John Mica and Republican Mayor Scott Smith of Mesa, AZ, as well as Democrats Senator Barbara Boxer and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — from both local and federal governments, all singing the same song. The idea that Uncle Sam could develop a financial program that would stretch federal dollars — Senator Boxer said “leverage” was a magic word — was a moment of clarity in the political muddle of Washington because it was set against a backdrop of the threat that federal government really could grind to a halt and not pass a budget because of partisanship and divisions.

“But at the press conference there was this sense of a common responsibility and a common agenda around what is now being called America Fast Forward, and everyone was speaking with a genuine sense of common purpose. There was a sense that this issue could cut through the political divisions and be the foundation for a way of going forward on infrastructure development — that infrastructure was fundamental and could drive our prosperity and competitiveness for the forseeable future, this this was something that everyone could agree on.

“The idea of Uncle Sam as a lender not just a spender has all sorts of unexpected upsides: It won’t push the federal deficit. It would mobilize the real source of public wealth, which is at the level of local government. It wouldn’t force communities to be in competition with one another for federal funding. Whether you are talking about a leveraging factor of 10-to-1 or 30-to-1, the interest on a loan is a measure of the risk of repayment, but when the risk is zero because the payment is certain then the capacity to leverage additional money becomes much more significant. As currently structured TIFIA is funded at $130 million, which creates the capacity for $1.3 billion in loans. If the federal government invests $500 million that creates $5 billion in loans. And when Senator Boxer and Congressman Mica were in LA they said they were thinking of much bigger numbers than that. What if the federal government invested $25 billion in TIFIA?

“The press conference was a moment of common humanity and nonpartisanship — US Chamber President Tom Donohue and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka were there as well — and it was striking that this idea of the federal government as a lender and not just a spender could distill a common purpose from our political differences. It was exceptional.

“The line of thinking was that we can do this transformative program if Congress can get through the budget — America Fast Forward was subordinated to the question of whether a budget is possible. But if a budget is impossible then the federal government is impossible. And one has to believe that whatever the differences are they can be reconciled. Senator Boxer said that in addition to the TIFIA program in the transportation bill Senator John Kerry (D-MA) has a bipartisan proposal for an national infrastructure bank and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has proposed a bond program and that all three concepts together could form a package of financial instruments that could be used not just to fund transportation but to fund broader objectives. And the idea that in this moment of so much partisanship and divisiveness that the idea of the federal government as a lender and not just a spender could take root and that it is now being carefully examined and recognized as transformative — well, Move LA
really felt a sense of pride for having rolled the ball down this alley . . .”

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