Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg Delivers Testimony On Condition Of Our Nation's Infrastructure Before U.s. Senate Committee On Banking, Housing And Urban Affairs

June 12, 2008

The following is the text of Mayor Bloomberg's testimony as delivered.

"Thank you Mr. Chairman, members of the committee. I am the Mayor of New York City and also co-chair, as Senator Dodd said, of Building America's Future, a coalition of state and local officials that we founded along with Governor Ed Rendell and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger this past January. 

"And the reason we came together is really very simple: We are facing an infrastructure crisis in this country that threatens our status as an economic superpower - and threatens the health and safety of the people that we serve. As you know, infrastructure is not a sexy or glamorous topic - but it is one of the most pressing issues facing our country.

"And that is why, in good economic times and in bad ones, we in New York have made infrastructure a top priority.  Attached to my testimony today is a summary list of projects we are currently working on, but let me just point out a few.  We in the City of New York, with City taxpayer dollars, have invested $2 billion in a new subway extension to open up the Far West Side of Manhattan; $6 billion on a water tunnel so that we can have a critical back-up supply of water; and $6 billion on upgrades to our sewage treatment plants. Nobody wants to spend money on infrastructure, particularly in difficult times when we don't have enough money to do everything else we have to do, but this is our future, this is our legacy, and we're not going to walk away from it.

"Across the city, in addition to this, we're spending tens of billions of dollars on other things, improvements and extensions, but the truth of the matter is that is certainly not enough. New York City and the region need something like $30 billion just in the next five years to continue to bring our mass transit system up to the state of good repair and to expand its capacity to meet growing demand. We need 23 billion other dollars to do the same for our drinking water and our sewage system.

"And we're not unique in this regard. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the entire country needs to invest at least $1.6 trillion over the next five years to maintain and expand our roads and bridges, bring our rail network up to a state of good repair, and construct critical water and wastewater projects. $1.6 trillion is obviously a staggering amount of money.  But it's also staggering how little the federal government is doing to help cities and states address these challenges. Senator, I think you pointed out, it isn't always easy to do this but during the Great Depression, you should remember, the New Deal did provide economic stimulus in the form of jobs to build infrastructure. LaGuardia Airport, which I'm sure a lot of you have flown in and out of, was a New Deal project, as was the electrification of the New York-Washington rail line. These projects created jobs, but they also created a lasting infrastructure that still serves our country. 

"And then after World War II, Congress saw the need to tie the nation together with a highway network and, together with President Eisenhower, they made that network a national priority and funded 90 percent of its total costs. Think about it this way: you had a Democratic and a Republican president instituting a stimulus package and a jobs creation program - yes, they did both - but most importantly for our country, they invested in our future, not short term, politically popular giveaways with dubious economic impact. Decades of growth came from the institutions and the initiatives that they started 70 and 50 years ago. Lately, sadly, we have looked for ways to avoid short term investments that give us long term benefits. In the 1960s and 1970s, in all fairness, the federal government did take the lead in funding transit projects around the nation, including Washington's metro system. But the decades that followed did see less and less leadership from Washington - and less willingness to open its purse strings.

"Now, I'm as happy as any other mayor to get federal or state funding. But I will say the New York City taxpayers have gotten tired of waiting for both and so the five boroughs that I represent have reached into their own pockets and paid higher taxes to make the kind of investments that we have to so that we will be proud of what we leave our children and grandchildren.

"In the 1980s the federal government was spending six percent of its entire domestic budget on infrastructure. Today, that is less than four percent and as a result, state and local governments are now responsible for three out of every four dollars spent on public infrastructure. To remain the world's economic superpower, we must build the infrastructure to support strong and sustained growth.  And that means, very simply, things have got to start changing in Washington. And I hope the year 2009 will be a watershed year.  The expiration of the current transportation bill will allow for a new debate on our infrastructure needs.  And I would hope and expect that we'll focus on two issues: One, what should the role of the federal government be in our transportation system and how we are going to pay for everything we know we need.

"There are a few principles that I believe should guide the discussion: First, we need to set clear goals - both for the short-term and long-term - and clear metrics for measuring success. Right now, we have no coherent national transportation policy. It's just a grab bag of programs with no goals that correspond to national priorities, such as reducing our dependence on oil or cutting our greenhouse gas emissions.  We also lack performance standards to ensure we can meet our goals, which is just basic accountability. And we lack incentives that encourage cities and states to be more efficient, which is a basic idea of market economics. These practices are straight from Management 101, and we need to put them to work when it comes to transportation.

"Secondly, we need to dramatically increase funding.  There are now two ways around it, infrastructure - no way around it infrastructure costs money.  But polls show that people are willing to pay for it - if they know they will benefit. Voters are smarter than politicians give them credit for being. They know there's no free lunch but they want to get the infrastructure fixed. And there are lots of things on the table, we need Congress to step up.

"Third and finally, we need to fund projects based on merit, not on politics. And we think one of the most promising concepts is the one introduced by Senators Dodd and Hagel, a national infrastructure bank. That bank would create an independent, nonpartisan entity that would fund the most vital needs and not the most parochial needs. So, the system is broken but these three principles, we think, would help. And we're not sitting there just asking for money. We're doing what we can with our own money; it's just much too big a problem for any one city. The pain has to be spread around the country because the benefits are countrywide. Thank you."

Jim Anderson