Governors join coalition to seek funding

| 2/25/2008

A group of governors has thrown support behind a new coalition pushing to increase federal funding for highways, bridges and other infrastructure.

Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City formed Building America’s Future in January to call attention to budget shortfalls and the need to fix and build infrastructure.

Coalition members held a press conference Sunday, Feb. 24, to receive support from 13 other governors including Jon Corzine of New Jersey, Charlie Crist of Florida, and Deval Patrick of Massachusetts.

“Infrastructure is a federal challenge. It requires a federal commitment of resources,” Rendell stated on his Web site following the news conference.

The coalition is working through the Rockefeller Foundation as a repository of ideas and issues. Coalition members hope that the presidential candidates will elevate transportation needs in their platforms.

The three leaders of the coalition have reasons for promoting their agenda.

In Pennsylvania, Rendell is pushing forward on two plans to increase transportation funding. One proposal calls for tolls to be implemented on Interstate 80, and the other involves leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike to private investors.

New York Mayor Bloomberg has called for increased fees for vehicles to enter Manhattan. This is called congestion pricing, and it would cost trucks $21 to enter the city during peak times.

Schwarzenegger has endorsed the increased use of toll roads in California. His support includes favoring a controversial toll road through a state park to relieve congestion on Interstate 5.

The coalition also aims to work on water treatment, sewer systems, mass transit and other forms of infrastructure.

During Sunday’s press event, coalition leaders called on the federal government to develop an economic stimulus package geared strictly for infrastructure development and improvement.

The announcement and demands of the coalition are timely.

The National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission reported to Congress on Jan. 15 that the federal government should invest $250 billion per year in transportation. The current investment rate of the federal government is about $40 billion.

State and local governments currently foot the bill for about 60 percent of transportation needs according to the commission report.

Ideas for increased revenue include fuel tax increases, toll roads, congestion pricing, public-private partnerships, vehicle-miles taxes, freight fees, transit ticket taxes and other forms of tax increases.

Highway user groups including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association would like to see a priority on responsible spending of current tax revenue before endorsing increased taxes or tolls around the country.

– By David Tanner, staff writer