, January 22, 2008 (ENS) - California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican; Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell, a Democrat; and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an Independent, stood beneath a Los Angeles highway interchange on Saturday to announce the formation of a non-partisan national coalition that will lobby for federal investment in America's decaying infrastructure.
The need amounts to at least $1.6 trillion dollars over the next five years, they said, a need too great for any one level of government to handle alone.
"So we all got together and we decided that we should form a partnership, that we'd form a coalition," Schwarzenegger said. "You have an Independent here, you have a Democrat here, a Republican. I mean, how much better can you get? And we are soul mates. We totally believe that we must rebuild America."
In the short term, the coalition will work with presidential candidates and the platform committees of the national political parties to ensure that the next president understands the enormity of the infrastructure crisis and is committed to increasing federal funding, the three officials said.
From left: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor Ed Rendell, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announce the Building America's Future coalition. (Photo courtesy Office of Governor Schwarzenegger)
"This coalition is going to demand that the presidential nominees tell us what their position on infrastructure is, talk to us about what their goals and dreams are for building a better American infrastructure," said Governor Rendell.
"In July of this year I take over as the chair of the National Governors Association," said the Pennsylvania governor, "and with Governor Schwarzenegger's help, we the governors are going to focus attention like a laser on infrastructure."
The new coalition, called Building America's Future, will be not-for-profit organization made up of elected and executive officials serving at the state and local levels of government.
"Our coalition is going to be made up of literally hundreds of local and state government officials and leaders," Governor Rendell said. "It's going to include private sector associations and individuals, and it is going to go everywhere to beat the drum for infrastructure for America's future."
"We have an infrastructure crisis," said Mayor Bloomberg. "Nonstop television showed us in New Orleans when the levees broke, and Minneapolis when the bridge collapsed. But the governors and the mayors of this country every day see at an operational level bridges that are rusting away, and tracks that can't carry high speed trains, and power transmission lines that can't keep up with demand, and airports that need new runways, and water lines that need backup systems, and sewage plants that leak into the rivers and the oceans."
"If we continue to ignore these problems we are going to suffer more collapses, more human tragedies, and more economic pain, and that's just in the short term," Bloomberg said. "Over the long run we really are going to risk losing our place as the world's leading super power."
"China, Japan, India, Dubai, Malaysia, Europe, all of them are investing in modern infrastructure at higher rates that we are here in the United States," the mayor said. "But Congress is setting back and resting on its accomplishments of past generations, our parents' generation. And they can only go on this way for so long before the rest of the world starts to pass us by. And we are here to say we cannot let that happen. We cannot hand our children a country that is crumbling from neglect."
"America needs $1.6 trillion worth of infrastructure over the next five years, yet federal investment has been cut in half as a percent of gross domestic product since 1987," said Governor Schwarzenegger. "This is disastrous because without adequate infrastructure to quickly and safely move goods and people our economy and our traffic will stop dead in its tracks."
Cars and roadway litter the river where the I-35 bridge collapsed in Minneapolis. August 5, 2007. (Photo by Todd Swain courtesy FEMA)
The problem has two parts, Bloomberg said, "we under-invest in infrastructure, and we invest badly. And both problems spring from the same source; short-term political calculations."
But in his view, the timing of the new coalition's push for funding "couldn't be better" because "there's a lot of talk in Washington about putting together an economic stimulus package."
"Democrats can say that investing in infrastructure is in the great tradition of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Republicans can say it's in the great tradition of Dwight D. Eisenhower. I think it is in the great tradition of America, and if both parties want to take credit for it, I think that's great. Let's just get the job done," said the mayor.
Governor Rendell said he and the other other two founding members are good people to lead the coalition "is not just, as Governor Schwarzenegger said, that we represent parts of the political spectrum, but each and every one of us has made a significant commitment in our own jurisdiction to rebuilding our infrastructure."
"In the past 20 years, state and local governments have been forced to pay more and more of the cost for infrastructure repairs and expansion," said the Pennyslvania governor. "Three-quarters of our nation's infrastructure spending is by state and local governments. In the past five years Pennsylvania has increased state funding for bridge repairs by 300 percent, yet the number of structurally deficient bridges has increased. Our country can't do it without federal leadership."
One organization has already offered its support to the fledgling coalition. The Rockefeller Foundation has committed funding for staffing and resources.
"For almost a century, the Rockefeller Foundation has supported breakthrough solutions to society's most pressing problems, and one of the most urgent challenges today is our aging and inadequate transportation infrastructure," said Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin, who joined the Mayor and the two governors under the L.A. highway interchange.
"A few years ago, the Rockefeller Foundation funded the hurricane recovery planning process in New Orleans, and so we saw deeply and personally what happens when infrastructure and transportation fail. Lives are lost, vast amounts of property are damaged, elected officials are held in account. All of this was after the fact," Rodin said.
"We've seen now the need for robust advanced planning, and much more focused attention on investments and infrastructure and transportation," she said. "We can no longer rely on FEMA and the federal government to solve our infrastructure disasters after the fact.
"First, it is very clear that our aging and insufficient infrastructure makes us frighteningly vulnerable to natural and to manmade disasters," said Rodin. "We can do better; we must do better."
"Second, as the governors and mayor articulated, continuing environmental degradation and climate change are inextricably linked with the choices we make, not just about the roads we build or the railways we need, but about land use and zoning and housing," she said.
The bottom line, said Governor Schwarzenegger, is that we cannot wait for people to die in floods and bridge collapses before we get the message.
"I think we got the message," he said, "that we must rebuild America, we must invest in America, and that is the bottom line."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.
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