Infrastructure Takes A Front Seat At National Governors Meeting

The National Governors Association 2009 Winter Meeting wrapped up Monday, February 23rd with a session on best practices from around the world for financing infrastructure repairs and upgrades. The governors charted what they called “an action-based roadmap” for the chairman’s initiative “Strengthening Our Infrastructure for a Sustainable Future.”

Each year, the chair alternates between a Democrat and a Republican, and each year, the chairman chooses an initiative to focus the governors’ efforts.

This year the National Governors Association (NGA) Chair is Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, who is highlighting the role states can play in managing existing infrastructure and developing new infrastructure in ways that enhance economic and environmental prosperity.

“A growing pattern of under investment and uncoordinated planning has led to a range of concerns that are felt across the country, including widespread congestion, unsafe bridges, inadequate water supply and an electricity grid that is increasingly pressed beyond its ability,” said Governor Rendell today. “To ensure our nation’s ability to compete in an evolving global economy and respond to crucial energy and environmental challenges, we must not only maintain our infrastructure system but also enhance and improve it.”

In January, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) reported that $2.2 trillion in repairs and upgrades is needed over the next five years just to bring the nation’s infrastructure up to “adequate.” The ASCE’s 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure (see 2/10 Yo-Yo Economics blog) assigned an overall grade of D to the nation as well as individual grades in 15 infrastructure categories, none higher than C+.

“From roads, rails and bridges to the electrical grid, water treatment plants, broadband networks, schools and hospitals, infrastructure makes modern life as we know it possible,” said NGA Vice – Chair Vermont Governor Jim Douglas. “Governors recognize that it is critical to our economic growth, global competitiveness and quality of life that we work collectively to find ways of improving and modernizing our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.”

Gov. Rendell’s focus on infrastructure took shape in January 2008 when he formed a new coalition called “Building America’s Future” (see 2/9 Are We There Yet? blog and sign petition in sidebar) to rally support for a renewed federal commitment to funding America’s infrastructure needs with state partners.

Coalition co-founders California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged to work with then 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.”

They were successful in that President Barack Obama has made infrastructure funding a pillar of his newly enacted Stimulus Package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Less than a week after it became law, the package is already generating infrastructure jobs.

New York Governor David Paterson today announced the first transportation projects eligible for federal funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be put to bid as early as March 5, creating thousands of jobs in Upstate New York, an area where unemployment is a constant problem.

These projects include the replacement and repair of bridges in Steuben, Onondaga, Oneida and Herkimer counties, and will be fully funded through the federal legislation.

“Clearly, there is a serious need in New York for federal infrastructure funding, and the projects announced today represent just a small number of the opportunities that will be funded with economic recovery dollars,” said Governor Paterson. “This will be an open process with significant local input, and will create jobs across the state at a time when New York is facing widespread unemployment.”

During their closing session today, the assembled governors heard Denmark’s Minister for Climate and Energy Connie Hedegaard’s insights into the Danish experience with integrating rail into its transportation system.

She provided advice on balancing urban and rural concerns, ways to use new pricing and financing mechanisms and strategies to integrate new technologies such as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

On Saturday, Governor Schwarzenegger and Governor Paterson co-chaired a bi-partisan meeting with 10 other governors and President Obama’s top energy and environment cabinet officials to discuss a state-federal partnership on clean energy and climate change issues.

During the meeting, governors discussed a variety of initiatives their states are undertaking to accelerate renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They stressed the importance of coordinating their actions with the Obama administration to leverage each others’ efforts.

Several governors noted the unique complexity of clean energy and climate challenge issues will require action at the local, state and federal level.

Governors Charlie Crist of Florida, Jon Corzine of New Jersey, Jim Douglas of Vermont, Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, Chris Gregoire of Washington, Ted Kulongoski of Oregon, Martin O’Malley of Maryland, Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, Bill Ritter of Colorado, and Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas attended the meeting.

They conferred with Carol Browner, assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change; Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior; Dr. Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy; and Lisa Jackson, administrator of the U.S. Enironmental Protection Agency.

“Today’s meeting was the first step in creating a close and lasting partnership with President Obama and his administration on climate change, said Governor Schwarzenegger. “I look forward to working hand-in-hand with our federal partners to realize the ambitious clean energy and climate change goals I know we share, and that I know will provide a boost to our nation’s economy.”

As their meeting closed today, the National Governors Association issued a bi-partisan statement expressing their belief that the country will emerge stronger than ever from the current economic downturn.

“We are unified in our unwavering belief that the United States’ economy is resilient and the true strength of our nation remains the ingenuity, perseverance and hard work of the American people,” the governors said.

“We have been through tough economic times in the past and have always emerged a stronger nation with a more vibrant economy. Our country’s ability to persevere is not in question – we know better days lie ahead. Working together we can speed recovery, provide new opportunities and ensure a prosperous future.”

Click here to read the report on infrastructure from the NGA’s Best Practices Office, “An Infrastructure Vision for the 21st Century” by Darren Springer and Greg Dierkers.

Greg Sitek

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