Transportation bond proposed by Talent

Thursday, May 29, 2003

If the federal government agrees to issue $50 billion in a new bond program, it would help mend the country's ailing transportation system with intended side effects of creating jobs, boosting the economy and saving lives by improving transportation safety.

That was the message U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, who is proposing the plan, sent Wednesday to a group of area business people in Cape Girardeau.

"The transportation infrastructure is behind where it ought to be," Talent told the group of about 15 who gathered at the chamber of commerce office. "That's the least you can say about it. This country could use a substantial investment in its transportation."

Talent, R-Mo., said the one-time bond program would help cash-strapped states and local municipalities complete important projects for roads, rail lines and transit systems through funding that would generate $50 billion. Talent said the work would create countless construction jobs and save lives by making deteriorating transportation modes safer.

The money, which would require a 20 percent local match, would be raised through 30-year-bonds that would be issued by a federally chartered, nonprofit organization for purchase by individuals and businesses. Some proceeds would go into a trust fund to be invested in federal agency bonds or similar investments.

Instead of interest, bond holders would receive tax credits that could be used against their federal income tax liability.

The bill that would create the program, co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, does not break down how the money should be allotted. Talent said Congress would do that.

"Those are very important issues and they need to be fought out," he said. "But not in this bill. This bill needs to move very quickly to make a difference. I'm going to fight for more than Missouri's fair share, but we need to have something to fight over first."

Talent also stressed that this program would not be an excuse for lawmakers to diminish TEA-21 money, the transportation bill the Congress writes every six years.

"If people try to use it as a replacement for TEA-21, I'll kill it, drive a stake through it myself," Talent said. "Don't let the specter of that keep you from supporting something so good in the short and long term."

Those who attended the roundtable discussion left with various degrees of support.

"What he's doing is great," said Lowell Peterson, an area banker and chairman of the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce's transportation committee. "There are real infrastructure needs in the state of Missouri, whether it's completing Highway 60, the I-66 project. We have real needs."

Peterson said his only qualm is that the program isn't big enough.

"We're talking about $50 billion, which means Missouri might get a billion or so," Peterson said. "I wish it were more. But I guess if it were much larger, he'd have a hard time getting it through Congress. I guess it's a good compromise."

Cape Girardeau Regional Airport manager Bruce Loy also attended the meeting, and he asked Talent if the money would be largely set aside for roads and highways and would only apply peripherally to airports.

"I thought it would only be used for road and rail infrastructure into and out of airports," Loy said. "But Talent said not to assume that. It seems like the book could be open. That could be a big benefit."

Talent was on a statewide tour to promote what he calls the "Build America Bonds" proposal.

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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