You've got to give Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., credit for trying. He wants to revive the administration's popular Build America Bonds program, which gave bond issuers generous tax credits and federal subsidies for infrastructure investments before it expired last year. Wyden has proposed limiting the bonds to transportation investments, thinking that a narrowly tailored program would garner bipartisan support and ease the pain of paying for a six-year surface transportation bill. He's gotten some interest from Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said he will advocate for such a program with the administration.
Reviving Build America Bonds is one of the only concrete ideas that has surfaced to help pay for a $300 billion to $500 billion highway bill. Yet everyone agrees that the highway trust fund's current receipts aren't going to cut it when it comes to road and bridge maintenance. LaHood hasn't offered any specific thoughts on revenue raisers except to say that a gas tax increase is off the table. Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., has posited that some $100 billion could be found in unused spending from previous funding bills, but there's no evidence to substantiate that claim.
What do you think of Wyden's plan? Is he dreaming? Can such a bond program work if it's targeted just for transportation? How much headway could states and cities make on their biggest projects if they had easier access to investors? Would such bonds really make a difference in lowering the overall cost of a six-year highway bill? Politically, how can supporters like Wyden sell their idea to Republicans who see it as just another way to funnel money to the states?