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The Build Act of 2011 Press Conference, Remarks by Thomas J. Donohue President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Monday, March 14, 2011 - 8:00pm

Washington, D.C.
March 15, 2011

Opening Remarks

Let me begin by thanking Sen. Kerry for the invitation to be here and for introducing legislation establishing a national infrastructure bank.

I’d also like to recognize Rich Trumka. A few weeks ago Rich and I appeared before Senator Barbara Boxer’s Environment and Public Works Committee united in our support for adequate infrastructure investments.

We’re seeing so much of each other lately we begin touring next month in the newest production of “The Odd Couple.”

As Sen. Kerry mentioned, our nation’s infrastructure is in dire shape.

Civil engineers give our overall system an abysmal “D.” Congestion is on the rise. Poor road conditions are a factor in one-third of all traffic fatalities.

As we fall behind, our competitors are racing ahead, building superior infrastructure that will attract jobs, businesses, and capital.

As our nation’s infrastructure continues to crumble around us, Americans wonder why our government doesn’t act.

While everyone agrees we need a world-class infrastructure system, no one seems willing to pay for it.

Americans have grown dubious about infrastructure investments as Congress has shoveled billions of dollars into politically driven earmarks, like a rain forest museum in Iowa.

They’re disgusted by the diversion of their gas tax dollars to non-infrastructure projects.

And they want their elected officials to spend money wisely and on things that are essential to the economy and jobs.

At the same time, our nation is facing a debt crisis of epic proportions.

So what do you do when your needs are great, but your purse strings are tight?

You do what Americans have always done—innovate. Be creative. Think outside the box. Make the absolute most out of the resources you have.

A national infrastructure bank does all those things.

With a modest initial investment of $10 billion, a national infrastructure bank could leverage up to $600 billion in private investments. That’s billion with a “b” and that’s real money, even in Washington.

And not just for highways and bridges, but for energy, ports, inland waterways, dams and levees, expansion of the electrical grid, and other infrastructure.

This addresses one of the major barriers to adequate funding of our system—the roadblocks and impediments to private investment.

Hundreds of billions of dollars from global pension funds, private equity funds, mutual funds, and sovereign wealth funds are available for investment in high-quality, low-risk infrastructure projects.

Yet today most of that money is going to fund projects in other countries, taking jobs along with it. Wouldn’t it be better to keep the capital, jobs, and competitive advantages in our country?

An infrastructure bank also keeps politics out of the equation. Careful procedures have been established to ensure that projects that receive loans or loan guarantees are based on merit and are of national or regional significance.

In short, an infrastructure bank will help us overcome our infrastructure deficit, create jobs, and make our economy more competitive.

And we know the concept, if done right, works. In many parts of the world, private banks or infrastructure banks provide long-term loans for infrastructure projects.

In the United States, however, there is no consistent source of long-term lending for infrastructure to support private-sector involvement. In fact, the private sector only provides approximately 6% of the nation’s infrastructure funding.

That’s a huge missed opportunity. That’s leaving money on the table.

A national infrastructure bank won’t solve all of our funding issues, but it is a major step in the right direction.

The U.S. Chamber doesn’t agree with every single provision in this bill—and we will work to improve some things—but it is a major step forward. When all is said and done, we expect to support it vigorously.

But we can’t stop there. Congress must also pass a comprehensive, multi-year highway and transit bill. It is long overdue.

And we need to face up to some hard truths. Passing a good surface transportation bill, standing up a national infrastructure bank, and removing roadblocks to private investment will help us rebuild a world class infrastructure system.

But, we must also recognize that our traditional public funding mechanisms for infrastructure investment are inadequate to the growing needs of our economy, businesses, and citizens.

Receipts to the Highway Trust Fund have fallen substantially as cars and trucks improve gas mileage.

The gas tax has not been increased in 17 years.

The integrity of the Highway Trust Fund has been compromised and its already declining resources may be poached for other purposes.

We are on an unsustainable path. The sooner we address this challenge the sooner we can secure the funding we need to increase our mobility, create jobs, and enhance our global competitiveness.

A national infrastructure bank is a great place to start. It will not only put thousands of Americans to work, keep and attract vast amounts of capital in our country, and help compete worldwide …… it can also prove that Americans are able to act together on a bipartisan basis, with backing from business and labor, to the benefit of the American people.

And it can prove that we are, as a nation, capable of doing great things.

Thank you.

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