HARRISBURG - As Congress prepares to wrangle over President-elect Barack Obama's still-undetermined economic-stimulus proposal, Gov. Rendell and other top state and local officials nationwide are pressing the need for infrastructure investment.
Rendell, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg yesterday announced results of an online poll in which a wide majority of Americans said they "strongly" or "somewhat" supported paying higher taxes to improve infrastructure.
In the poll, funded by the bipartisan advocacy group Building America's Future, 81 percent supported (43 percent strongly and 39 percent somewhat) paying 1 percent more in federal income tax to fund an array of improvements that go beyond roads and bridges to include mass transit and clean energy.
"This poll confirms what many of us believe: 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," said Rendell, cochairman of Building America's Future with Schwarzenegger and Bloomberg.
The coalition of state and local elected officials was created last year to urge more federal funding for infrastructure improvements.
Frank Luntz - whose New York firm, Luntz, Maslansky Strategic Research, conducted the poll of 800 adults Dec. 22 - said the findings showed an unusually high level of bipartisan support from the public.
"That's as close to universal support as you can get for any issue," Luntz said. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Citing the failure of New Orleans' levees during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the deadly Minneapolis bridge collapse in 2007, Schwarzenegger said there was a "need to rebuild America."
He pointed to the $60 billion, voter-approved investment in California's roads, bridges, flood prevention, prisons, schools and mass transit as evidence of public support for such projects.
Bloomberg stressed the need for local involvement and targeted investment in any national infrastructure program to help avoid building "bridges to nowhere."
"We need to spend money," he said, "but we need to spend it more intelligently."
Pennsylvania has 6,000 structurally deficient bridges and a huge backlog of road repairs totaling $11 billion, according to Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials.
Even if Obama's plan pours $100 billion into infrastructure, Rendell said, it's only "a drop in the bucket."
With civil engineers putting a cost of $1.6 trillion on repairing the nation's infrastructure, he said, there ought to be a federal capital budget for "bricks and mortar" improvements across the country.
"What we are doing here is a recovery plan," Rendell said of the stimulus package. "It is not the be-all and end-all."