Md. Financier Pushes National Infrastructure Bank Idea

Wednesday, 28 Dec 2011 03:51 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Maryland financier Christopher H. Lee, who helped privatize Seagirt Marine Terminal in Baltimore in 2009, is trying to sell Capitol Hill a $250 billion plan he says will create millions of jobs while modernizing the United States’ crumbling infrastructure, reports the Baltimore Sun.
Lee wants an independent board that will oversee billions of dollars in highway, airport, and mass transit projects, and wants speedy government approval for the plan.
Under Lee’s proposal, Congress would create an infrastructure bank, that would receive $250 billion in startup money from the federal government, which he says will leverage another $750 billion in private money.
Europe has had a similar institution since the 1950s, and President Barack Obama and several Senate Republicans have also proposed an infrastructure bank; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also supports the measure.
But Lee’s plan is different, because he wants taxpayers to finance a larger upfront payment. Obama’s plan calls for $30 billion in public funding, not the $250 billion Lee suggests. In addition, Lee wants a separate board to fast track some projects, so they wouldn’t face environmental, labor, and safety standards.
“His idea that spending needs to be much more ambitious than has been proposed is correct,” said Donna Cooper, a senior fellow of economic policy at the Center for American Progress. “But it’s not really practical to suggest a board that supersedes federal and state laws.”
Lee has met with congressmen and staff — who he won’t identify — and has printed opinion articles in Politico and Roll Call, among other Capitol Hill newspapers.
Finding investment funding — especially when the government is focused on reducing the nation’s budget — is difficult and many officials are skeptical after Obama’s 2009 economic stimulus plan failed to reduce unemployment.
However, a pending bipartisan Senate proposal boosts funding for a new program, the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, which would provide loans for highway and transit projects. The initiative, run by the Federal Highway Administration, would also be far less than Lee’s proposal.
Lee said his infrastructure bank would focus on funding projects with public-private partnerships in place, but the issue is “about more than just money,” he said. “To solve our massive unemployment problems, you need to be visionary.”

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