Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Former U.S. Senator Jim Talent Talks Asphalt, Politics & Green Bananas With GMP1

Former Senator Jim Talent of Missouri is co-chairman of The Alliance for Improving America’s Infrastructure, a broad-based coalition founded in 2007 “to address the urgent need to modernize the nation’s rails, roads, ports and airports.”

On the anniversary of last summer’s Minneapolis bridge collapse, Mr. Talent sat down with GMP1 to talk about America's crumbling infrastructure and Missouri politics.

As always, our interviews are run in their entirety and without editorial commentary.

We thank Mr. Talent for his time.


1. You are the co-chairman of the Alliance for Improving America’s Infrastructure, what is the AIAI trying to accomplish?

Nothing less than preserving America’s future. Our infrastructure is crumbling – ¼ of our bridges are deficient; 1/3 of our roads need repair; our locks and dams are almost literally falling apart. And the air transportation and rail systems are in crisis. Meanwhile, other countries are building modern transportation networks. This effort is an urgent necessity. I’m very proud of the National Association of Manufacturers for taking a leading role. I encourage people to visit GetAmericaMoving.com to learn more.

2. So, bottom line, you are pushing Congress to appropriate more money for our nation’s infrastructure. How much money do you think we need to spend on bringing existing infrastructure into good repair/our future needs? And why should taxpayers feel ok about footing the bill in today’s environment of outrageous budget deficits and “Bridges to Nowhere”?

Estimates are that 1.4 trillion dollars is necessary for a complete overhaul including building new infrastructure. But we shouldn’t let that number frighten us. The key is for Congress to understand that these are capital assets that we pay for over time and that pay back the investment we make in them. For every dollar invested in transportation, America gets almost six dollars in economic growth.

The Alliance isn’t attempting at this point to lay out a complete funding program. We are still in the process of learning from Americans about what they think. But as a first start Congress should pass the “Build America Bond” Act sponsored by Senators Wyden and Thune. That would provide 50 billion dollars for immediate use; if matched by states, it would be enough to repair the deficient bridges in the country.

About the “Bridge to Nowhere” issue - Americans were right to be angry about wasteful spending. We want transportation dollars to be spent on projects that have been professionally vetted and cost justified.

3. Is there a role for the private sector to play in all of this? Why or why not?

There’s a role for everyone to play. The Alliance, under the leadership of Gov. John Engler and NAM, will partner with congressional leaders, manufacturers and other associations to aggressively seek solutions and resources to upgrade and modernize the transportation infrastructure system. These efforts will include advocating for traditional and innovative financing to increase infrastructure funding, developing a 21st century interstate system focused on moving goods to market, supporting tax incentives and expanded use of technology to increase transportation capacity and reduce congestion, expanding airport capacity, upgrading our inland waterways systems and improving our rail capacity. I encourage people to visit GetAmericaMoving.com to learn more.

4. Correct us if we’re wrong, but isn’t our” sprawling” transportation infrastructure built around the idea that oil (and energy in general) would always be plentiful and cheap? Isn’t that a big problem in today’s expensive (and getting more expensive everyday) energy marketplace?

We’re not talking about building a new interstate highway system of 1950 vintage. We want a multi-model system, including rail, water transportation, and different highways that will be environmentally friendly and safe for moving goods to people. That’s the future.

5. Switching to presidential politics, the state of Missouri is considered by many politicos as a legitimate battleground. As a former Senator from Missouri, what should we look for over the next 90+ days to figure out what’s really going on in the state?

We should look for a huge struggle that goes to the wire. I don’t think we’ll know anything reliable about Missouri until the last two weeks of October.

6. Would you like to make a prediction of which candidate – Obama or McCain – wins Missouri? And by how much?

See my answer to number 5.

7. Finally, there has been some talk of you eventually running for Governor of Missouri, would you care to announce your candidacy on this blog?

There’s no place I’d rather make an announcement if I had one. But I don’t. I never plan too far ahead. I don’t even buy green bananas.