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Giannoulias Proposes National Construction Fund

Thu July 01, 2010 - National Edition
Christopher Wills - ASSOCIATED PRESS



SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias has proposed creating a huge construction fund to help modernize the nation’s roads, rail systems and other infrastructure, with the money to come from the oil industry.

The Illinois Democrat said he would raise $45 billion over the next decade for his “National Infrastructure Fund” by ending some tax breaks for oil and natural gas companies.

“Instead of benefiting a few oil companies that already enjoy billions of dollars in annual profit, this taxpayer money will benefit the entire nation by connecting our transit systems, updating our electric grid, streamlining our freight rail lines, and repairing our roads and bridges,” Giannoulias said in a campaign document.

Giannoulias, the state treasurer, planned to officially announce the proposal June 20, spokeswoman Kathleen Strand said.

Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman of his opponent, Republican Rep. Mark Kirk, said his campaign was looking at the proposal and would respond.

The idea of a special infrastructure fund or bank has been getting more attention in Washington the past few years.

Supporters said it could lend government money and award grants to projects based on merit, avoiding the politics that can be involved in congressional funding. It also could seek private money and borrow by issuing bonds.

“The key to this proposal is that there would be minimal politics involved,” Giannoulias said. “No ’Bridge to Nowhere,’ no 50-mile road just to connect one congressman’s house to a highway.”

The “bridge to nowhere” would have connected Ketchikan in southeast Alaska with a nearby island airport that serves the city. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin abandoned the proposal in 2008.

President Barack Obama, who once held the Senate seat Giannoulias now seeks, endorsed the idea of a national construction fund in 2008. Legislation to create a “National Infrastructure Development Bank” was introduced last year in the U.S. House but hasn’t gone anywhere.

While the idea has received bipartisan support, some people question the wisdom of creating a new government entity. They said it’s not clear how it would work with existing programs or whether it could really be kept clear of politics.

The Giannoulias campaign pointed to several tax measures benefiting the oil and gas industry that could be eliminated to pay for the infrastructure fund. They include things like letting oil companies deduct certain drilling expenses in a single year instead of over the life of a project, as most other industries do.

Obama has called for eliminating the same tax breaks.