Arizona Mayor Visits NH to Promote Infrastructure Coalition
Mesa, Arizona Mayor Scott Smith traveled north to the Granite State this week to attend several events on behalf of Building America’s Future – New Hampshire (BAF).
BAF is a bipartisan coalition focused on promoting investment in the nation’s infrastructure, founded by former Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
BAF’s New Hampshire chapter is headed by Senate President Peter Bragdon, and includes State Representative Candace Bouchard, and Executive Councilor Dan St. Hilaire, all of whom joined Smith at events on Wednesday.
Smith, a Republican, became involved with the group during his tenure as the Vice President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “I really appreciated their message, and their message was that we live in a new world as relates to funding from Washington, we live in a world where the mechanisms that we’ve relied upon for many many years are outdated and underfunded, and so we have to look for new solutions,” he said.
A key aim of BAF is to bring increased transparency and accountability to the Department of Transportation and other related agencies. Says Smith, “One of the problems is that we’ve certainly squandered a great deal of trust through earmarks, ill-advised bridges to nowhere, through lack of transparency and we need to change that.”
Smith acknowledged that infrastructure hasn’t gotten much play in the 2012 presidential debates or on the campaign trail, but said that his visit was an effort to change that. “One of the reasons I came to New Hampshire is to try to inject some life into this issue.”
He noted that the potential motivation for candidates and elected officials to steer clear of discussing infrastructure improvement is that the issue has become overly politicized. “Infrastructure, which for years has been one of the most bipartisan issues in this country, has over the last couple of years taken on a very partisan tinge to it,” says Smith, noting that the issue’s inclusion in the stimulus bill and President Obama’s job plan has led some on the right to view infrastructure investment as big government pork.
Smith’s outlook is optimistic, however. He says that his reception in New Hampshire has been very positive, and that when he spoke about infrastructure during stops in Concord, Milford, and Nashua, he found that “everybody understands it; they can look around and they can see the bridges that are failing, they can see the roads that aren’t being built, they can see the investments that aren’t being made.”
The most frequent question Smith and other BAF representatives are asked is ‘How do we pay for it?’ While the group is not proposing a specific payment structure, it stresses the need for fresh, creative approaches to funding, including public-private partnerships and increased flexibility for local governments.
“We’re going to pay for this one way or another,” says Smith, “We’re either going to pay for it in a planned, well-thought-out manner that brings us opportunity, or we’re going to wait and we’re going to pay for it either through deferred maintenance and systems that are crashing…or we’re going to pay for it in missed opportunities for billions and billions of dollars in economic growth we could be experiencing that we’re not.”
Finally, Smith says the only way to get solutions on the table to address our infrastructure problem is to make the issue part of our national dialogue: “We need to talk about it. We need to challenge candidates, we need to challenge office holders, we need to ask them what their plan is. We need to challenge them to address the issue and to come up with ideas and real solutions.”