It's looking more and more likely that an expanded TIFIA federal loan program will be a part of the next multi-year highway-transit bill.
TIFIA, which stands for Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, has some important fans, including Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.).
They appeared at a March 30 Capitol Hill press conference to voice their support for increasing the loan program. (View video.)
Established in 1998, TIFIA provides loans, loan guarantees and other credit assistance to help fund major transportation projects.
TIFIA's appeal is that under the program, a dollar in direct federal spending can help fund $50 worth of transportation projects.
Besides Boxer and Mica, other big names who spoke at the press conference to talk up TIFIA and the need for a jobs-producing transportation bill were U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue, AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D) and Mesa, Ariz., Mayor Scott Smith (R).
The obvious message was that the ideas have bipartisan congressional support and backing from business and organized labor.
Besides increasing TIFIA, Boxer said she supports other financing ideas, including Sen. John Kerry's (D-Mass.) recently introduced infrastructure bank proposal and an infrastructure bond program that she said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is working on.
With an increase in the federal gas tax seemingly a non-starter, Boxer and Mica are searching for ways to stretch federal infrastructure dollars to fund the highway-transit bill and TIFIA appears to be the most popular of those ideas.
Mica said of TIFIA, "We know it works. We can make it work better. We can expand it."
Boxer also noted that TIFIA is already established, and she added, "We can expand it. It's ready to go. The [Obama] administration likes it."
Donahue said TIFIA provides "a big bang for the budgetary buck," and called the program's benefits make it "a no-brainer."
Neither Boxer nor Mica would provide specifics of their bills, which are being drafted.
Villaraigosa has been a champion of TIFIA because it is one element of the financing for a planned Crenshaw-LAX corridor light rail project. The TIFIA component is a $546-million loan.