The idea of a national infrastructure bank has prominent advocates who see it as a way to turn a modest federal stake into much bigger dollars for public works. But if a bank is authorized, it will happen later rather than sooner. Plans have been floated but have not generated strong momentum. The short congressional schedule makes the odds even longer for passage this year.

One proposal on the table is a bill introduced last year by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.). DeLauro told a House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing on May 13 her bill would create “an independent, government-owned corporation” to issue long-term bonds for public works across a range of sectors, including transportation, environment and energy. 

DeLauro’s proposed bank would receive $25 billion in appropriations, spread over five years. She said the bank could issue as much as $625 billion in bonds, So far, DeLauro’s bill has 56 cosponsors, well short of a House majority, and has yet to get out of subcommittee.

President Obama in February proposed a so-called National Infrastructure Innovation and Finance Fund in his 2011 Transportation Dept. budget. The fund would finance only transportation projects of “regional and national significance.” Initial funding would be $4 billion. The idea has gained little support.

Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell (D) testified before the House panel and continued to push for an infrastructure bank. Rendell said he sees “a good shot” at passing a bill to authorize such a bank. He added, “I think it’s important that the President weigh in, strongly. If he does, I think this will get done.”

Brian Deery, senior director of the Associated General Contractors’ highway and transportation division, says, “Any source of infrastructure funding is welcome.” But he says AGC is concerned the bank “is being offered as an alternative to coming up with real, hard-dollar federal investments in infrastructure.” Industry groups’ preferred vehicle for that transportation funding is a multiyear reauthorization. But the bill is stalled on the Hill.

Two Infrastructure Bank Proposals:
Sponsor: Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) Sponsor: Obama administration/U.S. DOT
Title: National Infrastructure Development Bank Title: National Infrastructure Innovation and Finance Fund
Initial federal funding: $5 billion, plus $20 billion over next four years Initial federal funding: $4 billion
Eligible projects: Transportation, environmental, energy, telecommunications Eligible projects: Transportation only, “projects of regional and national significance”
Status: House bill introduced in 2009, 56 co-sponsors as of May 13. Status: Proposed in Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget request in February 2010
Sources: Rep. Rosa DeLauro; U.S. DOT

The National Asphalt Pavement Association would prefer to see an infrastructure bank included in the long-term transportation bill, says Jay Hansen, vice president for government affairs. He says, “We like infrastructure banks. We like tolling. We like all these alternative financing mechanisms. But the reality is, it’s only today about 5% of highway capital construction. … Well, how are we going to fund the rest?”