Would it be a good investment for all concerned if state and local governments borrowed federal money for transportation projects up front and paid it back over time?
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa last fall floated a plan for getting 30 years' worth of transportation projects built in 10 years: Borrow now to fully fund the projects and pay back the loan using the special tax already approved by L.A. voters. Villaraigosa has been attracting support since then with the argument that the 30/10 plan will save money in the long run, put vital projects in use sooner, create jobs and help the environment. It isn't so far off from the idea of a national infrastructure bank, and President Obama reportedly called it "a template for the nation."
Is it? Discuss the benefits and costs of having the federal government front money for transportation projects. How much is there to gain from getting must-have projects built sooner, and how would you determine what makes the cut? Does the short-term outlay make sense in the current spending climate? Will the return on investment be enough? What have we learned from the Recovery Act that should guide any further decisions about getting the feds involved in infrastructure spending?