Congress snubs Obama infrastructure bank

An appropriations bill for transportation, housing and urban development allocates almost $64bn for transportation infrastructure but leaves out President Obama's $5bn request for a National Infrastructure Bank due to ‘the complexity of the proposal’.

The US Congress has ironed out a package of spending for the government’s 2010 fiscal year that includes nearly $64 billion of spending for transportation infrastructure but eschews an Obama administration proposal for a National Infrastructure Bank.

A summary of the consolidated appropriations bill for transportation, housing and urban development said President Obama’s $5 billion request for a National Infrastructure Bank “has not been provided” because of “the complexity of this proposal”.

Obama: no infrastructure

In his fiscal year 2010 budget proposal for the government, President Obama backed the creation of a bank that would provide federal direct investment as well as foster co-investment in transportation projects. He proposed initial funding of $5 billion per year for five years starting in the 2010 fiscal year, which began on 1 October.

The House and Senate Committees on appropriations instead referred the infrastructure bank to the transportation reauthorisation bill, which has yet to be passed. That measure, supported by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar, includes a provision for a National Transportation Infrastructure Bank with a minimum $50 billion in funding.

The transportation reauthorisation bill lays out sums the government plans to spend in the future on various transportation programmes. The appropriations committees, in turn, actually cut the check for those budgets each year.

“Usually they know how much money they will need to appropriate for transportation because the bill is already there,” said Jim Berard, a spokesperson for Oberstar’s committee. But because Congress has yet to reauthorise a six-year transportation spending bill, the appropriations committees “have to take a shot in the dark” on the funding levels, Berard said.

The appropriations committees allocated $41.8 billion to improve and repair the US’ highway infrastructure, $600 million for transportation project grants, $10.73 billion for the Federal Transit Administration, $2.5 billion for high speed rail – a move applauded by the California High Speed Rail Authority – and $3.5 billion for airport modernization, among other priority areas.

Berard said that action on a longer-term reauthorisation bill is unlikely anytime soon. “It’s going to be well into fiscal year before we're going to be ready to move a six year bill,” Berard said.

The consolidated appropriations bill for transportation, housing and urban development is the next-to-last chunk of the federal budget that has yet to go out for fiscal year 2010. Defense spending is still outstanding.

The bill has to pass a vote in the House and Senate before it can move to President Obama for his signature. At that point, it will become law.