Muckraker: Grist on Politics

Senate Democrats on Sunday convinced President-elect Barack Obama to add more money for clean-energy tax credits to his economic-stimulus plan, doubling available funds to at least $20 billion.

Horse-trading is sure to continue as the Obama team and congressional leaders try to agree on what should be included in a package that could cost more than $775 billion. The initial Obama plan didn’t include details on how much would go toward infrastructure and didn’t specifically mention mass-transit funding, though it called for doubling the production of renewable energy and retrofitting the majority of federal buildings. Some enviros and transit advocates are concerned that the stimulus plan could put massive amounts of money into traditional infrastructure without taking into account the long-term environmental impacts.

And in his Saturday radio/YouTube address, Obama said the plan would create nearly half a million jobs through clean energy investments, including doubling the amount of renenwable energy used in the country and retrofitting the majority of federal buildings. “These made-in-America jobs building solar panels and wind turbines, developing fuel-efficient cars and new energy technologies pay well, and they can’t be outsourced,” said Obama (who still hasn’t explained exactly why wind turbines and solar panels can’t be constructed elsewhere).

In a separate video, Christina Romer, Obama’s designee as the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, explained the job-creation portion more in-depth. In it, she discussed how investments in things like a smart grid and energy efficiency would create jobs.

Meanwhile, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair James Oberstar (D-Minn.) — who will likely have plenty of say in what the House package will look like — is floating a stimulus proposal that would provide $85 billion for infrastructure investments, with more than half going to energy and environmental projects. The plan would put $12 billion toward state clean-water bonds, $14 billion to environmental infrastructure, and at least $17 billion to mass transit. Of that, $12 billion would go to public transit, and $5 billion for rail. Another $30 billion would go to highways and bridges.

Oberstar noted that his plan “creates green-collar jobs and invests in projects that decrease our dependence on foreign oil and address global climate change.”

Let’s be Frank

There’s significant public support for expanding the infrastructure portion of the stimulus plan, according to new polling data [PDF] produced by Republican pollster Frank Luntz. Luntz’s work was commissioned by Building America’s Future, a nonprofit coalition led by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D), and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I).

Luntz’s polling found that 94 percent of Americans are concerned about the country’s infrastructure, and 81 percent would be willing to pay 1 percent more on their taxes if the money were to go toward infrastructure. Investment in energy infrastructure ranked as their top priority in the poll, with support for improving water systems, the electricity grid, and mass transit not far behind.

“The public sees infrastructure as clean water, they see it as school buildings, they see it as bike paths and airports and railways. They do not just see it as repairing highways,” said Luntz on a call with reporters. “The more comprehensive the program is, the more likely they are to support it.”

“This poll confirms what many of us believe,” said Rendell, also on the press call. “The American public understands the importance of investing in a broad range of infrastructure, from the energy grid to roads and transit to clean water. And they understand why infrastructure is so important to them in their daily lives. But the public is demanding strong accountability, transparency, and oversight of any new investments in infrastructure. … They would rather see us take the time to pick the right investments, rather than rush ahead with the same old projects.”

Schwarzenegger said Obama’s energy proposals were “music to our ears” for his state. “We all know that this is also meant not just to rebuild America, but as we’ve seen here in California, it’s a job creator,” he said. “For every billion dollars we invest in infrastructure, we have seen that it creates 18,000 to 20,000 new jobs.”

But the two governors seemed to have different views about what types of infrastructure projects were “shovel-ready” and could be started up right away. Rendell pointed to road and bridge repairs as work that the country could get moving on immediately, while implying that mass-transit projects would take longer to get rolling. Schwarzenegger, on the other hand, emphasized clean-energy efforts: “Just in California, we have $11.8 billion in energy and energy-efficiency projects ready to go.”

All of this suggests that the conflicts over infrastructure investment in the stimulus plan will be significantly more complicated than the “Trees vs. Roads” conundrum that Politico described recently. While many governors are calling for major road investments, there is also a significant push to spend stimulus funds on green infrastructure projects — not just from enviros, but from both Democrats and Republicans who want to see short-term stimulus based on longer-term thinking.