For months, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, in his capacity as chair of the National Governors Association, has tried to call attention to the commonwealth's and the country's crumbling infrastructures, especially aging highways and bridges that have dangerously fallen into disrepair. Now, it appears he's won an ally in a very high place.
On Nov. 24, while announcing appointments to key economic posts at a news conference in Chicago, President-elect Barack Obama voiced support for a new, multibillion-dollar economic stimulus package that would include funding for the infrastructure; its health and well-being are often considered key components of economic vitality.
Then on Dec. 2, Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden held a closed-door meeting with nearly all the nation's governors — including their campaign opponent, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — at Philadelphia's Independence Hall.
In a press conference immediately afterward, Rendell said that Obama and Biden made a commitment to pool federal dollars for the states to use for infrastructure projects and to aid social-service agencies feeling the pinch from state budget shortfalls. Rendell said that no specific amount had been discussed, but the federal economic stimulus package is expected to entail several hundred billion dollars, in addition to the $700 billion financial bailout.
How will it all be funded?
"Deficit spending," explained Rendell. "It's our job first to fix our problems in our states. The federal government can be helpful, but [it's] not going to eradicate our problem."
The country's well-worn infrastructure was made apparent on Aug. 1, 2007, when the Interstate 35 West bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, injuring nearly 150 people and killing 13. Closer to home, in March, a support pillar on Interstate 95, just north of Center City, cracked, closing down the major thoroughfare for several days.
Rendell may have been running the press conference inside Congress Hall — the original home of the House and the Senate — but all eyes were on Palin, McCain's running mate, who had her first face-to-face meeting with Obama and Biden since the campaign.
"I am quite optimistic about moving forward in a bipartisan manner," said Palin, who added that she had reservations about increased federal spending that will only add to a ballooning deficit.
At a program hosted last week by the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, Rendell said that $1.7 trillion is needed over a period of years to shore up the country's roads, highways and bridges.
In addition to the long-term need to bolster the nation's transportation system to spur economic growth, Rendell argued that such a project could create jobs. Reiterating an argument that federal dollars should be spent at home and not on foreign wars, the governor said that the United States should scale down its forces in Iraq as soon as possible and redirect the annual $140 billion the federal government spends there toward bolstering America's infrastructure.
Said Rendell: "The Iraqis don't want us; it's time to go home."
Last week, the Iraqi Parliament approved a security pact that sets a three-year timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
"If we pull out of Iraq, and let the Iraqis spend some of their $80 billion oil surpluses, [we can] devote the money to repairing the infrastructure and put millions of Americans back to work with good-paying jobs."