Notable Outcomes of the Recently

Just days after the conclusion of AWWA?S ACE 2011, the U.S. Conference of Mayors held its 79th annual meeting in Baltimore. The agenda of the annual meeting included a review of a number of critical municipal issues such as job creation, local economic development, the local housing market, clean energy solutions, energy efficiency initiatives, climate change adaption, and the evolution of the ?smarter city.?

Keynote addresses of the opening plenary session were provided by Maryland Gov. Martin O?Malley and Siemens USA CEO Daryl Dulaney. Additionally, both U.S. Conference of Mayors CEO/Executive Director Tom Cochran and President Antonio R. Villaraigosa (mayor of Los Angeles) provided notable remarks. All four presentations were inspiring and included observations about the challenges facing American cities, such as aging infrastructure, tighter municipal budgets, increased urbanization and unemployment. The importance of cities transitioning to a cleaner, greener economy was also discussed.

According to Siemens? Dulaney, municipal infrastructure around the country is getting worse. The large influx of people moving into urban communities is ?forcing cities to accommodate a lot more people than their existing infrastructure was built to support.?? He noted that 84 percent of the U.S. population now lives in metropolitan areas.? As a result of this population trend, ?infrastructure will come to its breaking point.?

If the growing infrastructure needs are not addressed soon and new innovative partnerships are not widely embraced, the consequences will be tough ? more brownouts, a surge in carbon emissions, water shortages, etc. Dulaney reiterated that ?Cities with aging or insufficient infrastructure will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to attracting new businesses and new jobs.? Ultimately, the ?future prosperity of our country depends on the present success of our cities,? he said.

The highlight of the plenary program was the passionate presentation made by newly installed Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago. As part of his opening remarks, Emanuel reminded the audience that he fought for infrastructure investment when serving in the federal government. According to the mayor, ?Without our infrastructure, we cannot grow as cities.?

Like other mayors, Emanuel recognizes the ability of infrastructure projects to serve as a job creation tool. By promoting the development and implementation of municipal infrastructure projects, mayors will ultimately be establishing the appropriate conditions for job opportunities to occur.

Given the increased concern that the American population has about the ongoing high unemployment levels, Emanuel is hoping that Congress will turn its attention to back to infrastructure bill following the federal debt limit challenge. He would like to see Congress refocus on the proposed National Infrastructure Bank concept that could stimulate the financing and implementation of those infrastructure projects ? projects that will in turn generate much needed job opportunities.?

Acknowledging that one of the biggest infrastructure challenges facing mayors and city governments is the lack of funding to meet the growing infrastructure investment needs, Emanuel concluded his remarks by introducing another potential funding vehicle for municipal infrastructure. Corporate America would like to repatriate foreign profits (in excess of $200 billion overseas profits).? What about lowering the tax rate of repatriated corporate profits and then using the new tax revenue collected to fund the proposed National Infrastructure Bank?

There is another funding proposal for infrastructure projects that was not only endorsed by a quorum of mayors attending the annual meeting, but it also received the backing of the Mayors Water Council, now co-chaired by Mayor Jennifer Hosterman of Pleasanton (Calif.) and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore. At the U.S. Conference of Mayors? annual meeting, a resolution was introduced and adopted that called for an end of the war in Afghanistan. Funds currently earmarked for Afghanistan would then be redirected for job creation in cities ? including jobs involved in the rebuilding of much needed municipal infrastructure.

It is now a waiting game. Does Congress understand the role of infrastructure projects as a job creator and an economic/financial stimulant for local communities? Can Congress appreciate the job creation value of the proposed new infrastructure funding sources like those described above? Will Congress understand the value of a National Infrastructure Bank to help catalyze the development and financing of much needed infrastructure projects? Does Congress understand the link between a well-designed updated infrastructure system and a competitively attractive economy?

Only time will tell.

Kathy Shandling is the executive director of the International Private Water Association and a frequent contributor to UIM.

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