Mayors want federal government to add to their $150 billion for infrastructure

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Members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors said Wednesday they want the federal government to help with the $150 billion in new infrastructure projects they are already undertaking this year with their own taxing and bonding initiatives.

“We have identified at least $150 billion of primarily tax and or bond measures around the country this coming year just in cities themselves,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told reporters.

“That’s with no federal help,” Garcetti said. “The federal government should be at least matching that. So I would like to see at least a couple of hundred billion dollars of new federal bonds that would go out to help finance this especially at historic lows on interest rates.”

Garcetti said federal infrastructure assistance for transit, water and energy projects, ports and airports would generate enough new jobs to ensure the continuation of a growing economy and prevent a recession.

Mayors from 46 states, including the three largest cities of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, are attending their annual winter meeting here.

Their joint plan of action, published as the Mayors’ 2020 Vision for America: A Call to Action, includes the reinstatement of advance refundings for tax-exempt municipal bonds and a call to make permanent the direct-pay Build America Bonds program as a supplement to tax-exempt municipal bonds.

They also are calling for restoration of the full federal deductibility of state and local taxes.

Those suggestions could be discussed next week when the House Ways and Means Committee holds a Wednesday morning hearing on “Paving the Way for Funding and Financing Infrastructure Investments.”

Mayor Steve Benjamin, the immediate past president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and chairman of the bipartisan Municipal Bonds for America coalition, said Wednesday he’s aware House Democrats have announced plans to move forward with an infrastructure plan without agreeing to a deal with the Trump administration in advance.

“I’ve heard some rumblings and I have not seen the plan,” Benjamin said. “But we continue the dialogue with the House and the Senate on USCM priorities regarding infrastructure. It would be a breath of fresh air.”

Benjamin said the priorities are reinstatement of advance refundings and legislation to allow more creative partnerships for building infrastructure.

“We’re always excited about infrastructure,” Benjamin said. “Pessimistic about the federal government stepping up and playing a more significant role in an infrastructure partnership. That’s been a challenge.”

Benjamin told his colleagues during a mayoral roundtable that his city has undertaken $750 million in projects through bonding since he became mayor. The benefits have included a 95% reduction in sanitary sewer overflows and a public-private partnership to build a new minor league baseball park for an affiliate of the New York Mets.

“The interest rates are at historic lows,” Benjamin said. “This is the cheapest capital we will ever achieve.”

“We would like them to return our tax dollars to us,” Garcetti said, referring to the federal government. “They have been good on our subway and a couple of other places but most of this we are going it our own.”

In Congress, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is expected to release its proposed surface transportation bill as soon as next week.

The Senate already has begun work on reauthorization of surface transportation programs which are scheduled to expire on Sept. 30, 2020.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously approved a five-year $287 billion reauthorization earlier this summer.

A transit title will be added by the Senate Banking Committee while safety, rail and autonomous vehicles sections will be added by the Senate Commerce Committee.

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