Private Sector Can Play a Role in Rebuilding Infrastructure

The Obama Administration and the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act have stemmed the nation?s monthly job losses. However, the country is still faced with the challenge of creating jobs that will get Americans back to work.

The U.S. jobs deficit has reached millions. Our unemployment rate is at an intolerable 9.9 percent. And yet, there is an obvious answer to reengaging our small businesses and American workers. It lies within our aging, deteriorating water infrastructure.

Earlier this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation?s water and wastewater systems a grade of ?D minus,? the lowest mark of any infrastructure category. For too long, the water mains we depend on have lain underground out-of-sight and out-of-mind, but surely deteriorating. As a former mayor of Paterson, N.J., I understand that a strong water infrastructure is essential to the community?s public health and economic vitality.

The Environmental Protection Agency and Government Accountability Office estimate that community water systems will require $500 billion above their expected rate of investment in order to meet safe drinking water and sanitation needs over the next 20 years.

However, taxpayers cannot foot the entire bill for all of the repairs and upgrades that our water infrastructure needs. We must leverage private capital investment and look at options for public-private partnerships.
That is why I am proud that my legislation, the Sustainable Water Infrastructure Investment Act, is included in the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010, H.R. 4213, which recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives.

My legislation, which has bipartisan support, aims to repair our crumbling water infrastructure while leveraging private capital to create jobs. The bill makes it easier for water systems to access capital by removing state volume caps on private activity bonds (PABs) for water and wastewater financing.

Congress has already exempted airports, intercity high-speed rail, and solid waste disposal sites from these bond caps. The caps imposed on water systems impede them from tapping into the $180 billion that Standard and Poor?s estimates is available for infrastructure investment.

Of course, the greatest parts of this legislation are the economic benefits that will result from it.
Economists estimate a $1 billion dollar investment in water infrastructure will create 28,500 local jobs and the bill could put Americans in every state to work within 120 days of enactment. That same $1 billion is expected to generate approximately $82.4 million in state and local tax revenue at a time when states and localities need it most.

Cities, towns and utilities will face a major challenge over the next several decades replacing their aging and worn out water infrastructure.? The private sector has proven to be important and effective player in meeting municipalities? challenges and goals, and greater access to PABs will increase the private-sector options available to municipalities.

The time has come to really focus on creating jobs and building a strong infrastructure for future generations.

Bill Pascrell Jr. is the U.S. Congressman for the Eighth Congressional District of New Jersey.

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