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Roads to Ruin: Interview with Mayor Bloomberg, Gov. Rendell

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a registered independent, talked with CNN's Campbell Brown about America's infrastructure, what scares them most and what can be done about the billion-dollar problem.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Here is a transcript of that interview, part of a "Campbell Brown: Election Center" special report, "Roads to Ruin: Why America is Falling Apart," to air at 8 p.m. ET on Friday.

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: So I want to ask both of you to scare us all for a minute here and set up the problem. It has been a year since 13 people died in that Minnesota bridge collapse. If we continue at this rate, if we don't act, give us your nightmare scenarios.

What's going to happen in New York? What's going to happen in Pennsylvania and around the country if this keeps up, Mayor Bloomberg?

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Well, the nightmare in New York and for this country is that we're not going to have an economy, we're not going to have the monies we need to improve education and do all of those things.

Infrastructure is not really about collapsing bridges. We will fix the bridges. Infrastructure is about not having the stuff you need to have an economy, to have a society, to let people get around, get an education, go on vacation, get medical care, to grow and to be competitive with the rest of the world.

And Ed knows a lot about that.

BROWN: Because this stuff has to be dealt with. So the other stuff will get shoved to the side.

BLOOMBERG: Well, you know, in good times, we don't want to spend money on infrastructure, and in bad times, we don't want to spend money on infrastructure.

And the question is, when do you spend money on infrastructure? And the answer to that is, you have no choice, you must do it starting right now no matter when now is.

And I think the -- it's clear the economy and the country is slowing down; it's a recession or a depression depending on whether it hits somebody else or hits you. Nobody has got any extra money. But if we were to stop investing, stop building, then there is not going to be a good tomorrow.

BROWN: Governor Rendell, what is it that scares you? What keeps you up at night?

GOV. ED RENDELL: Well, first, I think the mayor hit it right on the head. But also, as the mayor knows, infrastructure is a great way -- spending money on infrastructure is a great way to generate new jobs that can't be outsourced, and investment in American businesses to, you know, pay for all the materials that go into infrastructure.

Look, the mayor is right, economic competitiveness in the long run is the reason we must do this. But there is also a public safety component. As you know, Campbell, in Pennsylvania, this year, after the collapse in Minnesota, we had a bridge in Pittsburgh, a major artery to downtown Pittsburgh drop seven inches.

That means it came fairly close to replicating what happened on I-35. I-95, the nation's superhighway, was closed for three days in Philadelphia because one of the supporting piers to a bridge that 95 goes over had a huge crack in it, a crack about this big, and we had to repair that.

We have 6,000 structurally deficient bridges in Pennsylvania; about 26 percent of our bridges are bridges that average 50 years of age.

They've got to be repaired. I have quadrupled the funding on bridge repair from $250 million a year to, this coming fiscal year, over a billion. And we've only been able to eat into the backlog by about 500 bridges.

Unless there is real federal involvement and a massive infrastructure repair program like all of the G7 and developed nations have done, not only will we become a third-rate economic power, but public safety and our quality of life are going to be endangered as well.

BROWN: But I think we all know that at the federal level, especially, a lot of this is just pure politics.

BLOOMBERG: Well, if you go back and take a look, Thomas Jefferson had this idea that we should invest money in canals. That opened this country to the west and carried the country for decades.

Then Dwight -- or Franklin Delano Roosevelt, trying to get us out of the Great Depression, did exactly what Gov. Rendell just said, he invested in infrastructure, which created the jobs that help us come out of the recession. But it also carried this country's economy for decades.

Then along came Dwight Eisenhower, and Eisenhower built the interstate road system. And that carried this country for decades.

What we see now in Washington is every project is a pork barrel project.

Some of them are good. Some of them are necessary. But the way they decide on projects is based on who happens to have power on the Appropriations Committee in the House or the Senate. And what we need is we need leadership from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue and in both sides of the aisle in Congress to have a grand scheme.

What are we trying to accomplish? What do we want this country to look like two decades from now? And then how do we get there? And then test, does the project that you want to build fit in there? We can't keep building every place; we have to build those things we need.

BROWN: But this isn't even being talked about in this presidential campaign. You've asked both of these candidates to come together, have a town hall meeting focusing solely on the ...

BLOOMBERG: That went beyond that. Gov. Rendell asked them to come to one place, not have a debate but to say specifically what they would do, how they would pay for it, how they would convince Congress to go along with it.

Because, as you point out, this is politics. And the real world is, we live in a democracy where people want to get re-elected, get support, have to -- lots of constituencies that they have to help.

But nevertheless, the country in the past has been able to pull itself together when it really needed to do so. And there is absolutely no reason why we can't do it in the future. And if I were a presidential candidate, I would try to address this issue and say -- to tell the public exactly what I could do -- would do, because I think that's what the public wants.

BROWN: So Gov. Rendell, what sort of response are you getting from the presidential candidates in reaching out to them, to get them to talk about it? And let me just raise one other issue, because it seems the only way -- the only things that we're hearing about on this campaign are ideas like a gas tax holiday, which Hillary Clinton, who you supported, also supported.

That would've taken money away from infrastructure. John McCain supports that. It's almost as if we're not -- not only are we not addressing it, but we're getting away from issues that even have to do with it.

RENDELL: Well, the mayor and I both agree, the gas tax holiday was a bad idea, bad when Hillary Clinton proposed, bad when John McCain proposed it. But both McCain and Obama have talked about infrastructure. They have some plans that you can find on their Web sites.

It's just not a sexy issue. They haven't responded to our letter yet, but ...

BROWN: It's not a sexy issue until something happens.

RENDELL: Well, exactly right. And I contend if the economy hadn't gone bad, after Minnesota, this would have stayed on the public's radar screen, stayed pretty high. But when the economy nose-dived, this sort of became a backburner issue.

But it can't be a backburner issue. And what Building America's Future, the organization that the mayor and I and Gov. Schwarzenegger started, it's our task to raise that public consciousness. And the mayor is absolutely right. The public is not going to support a massive infrastructure spend as long as the money is distributed in the old-fashioned way.

But there is a little glimmer of hope. Sen. Dodd and Sen. Hagel put a bill in to create an infrastructure bank, which would have as a board of directors professionals, not politicians. It would be well-funded, and it would fund major projects, interstate projects, projects that cost over $75 million, $100 million each.

And it would take it out of the normal political earmark-type system of funding. That's a good idea. That's an idea that we endorse. And we've got to flush these things out. But first and foremost, we've got to build the public will.

You know, the mayor is always fond of saying, I've heard him say it, we've been traveling together, there's no free lunch. And that's right.

BROWN: But ...

RENDELL: If we're going to repair infrastructure, we're going to have to pay for it. And if we're going to convince the public to pay for it, it has to be distributed in a nonpartisan, non-political way.

BROWN: But where is this money going to come from? We're talking about -- and you've talked about the number, $1.6 trillion.

BLOOMBERG: $1.6 trillion over five years. If you do the math, divide by five, it's roughly $300 billion a year. It is a lot of money. But Congress just spent one-half of that, $150 billion, mailing checks to everybody, which may be good politics and helps you buy a flat-screen TV, but it didn't do anything to stimulate the economy and create the kind of jobs we need.

If you just take double that, it's the kind of money if you put it in now, you will get paid back many, many times over. Gov. Rendell gave a great talk when we were in either New Orleans or Minneapolis-St. Paul. We were both places last week.

And one place he said, you know, he remembers an old commercial where the guy holds up an oil filter and says, you can buy my oil filter for $7 now, or don't buy it and you'll have to replace your car for $4,500, and they show a picture of the car.

Well, it was a long time ago, because cars don't cost $4,500 anymore. But that's exactly what happened. And if you go back and look at New York City back in the '70s, they stopped painted or repairing the bridges. Today, we're redoing all of our bridges. It costs so much more.

It requires leadership. And all the times you say, well, the public doesn't understand, the public won't do this, yes, that's what leadership is about. We need a president and we need a Congress that leads from the front rather than from the back.

But they don't do a poll to see what the public wants and then tried to give it to them. They do what they think is right and try to convince the public to come along.

RENDELL: And, Campbell, the clock is ticking. Infrastructure repair costs, bridges and roads, are increasing 12, 13 percent a year.

Interest rates are 4.5, 5 percent a year. So one of the things we're suggesting is that the Congress look at borrowing money, maybe a federal capital budget or tax credit bonds or tax-exempt bonds.

Borrowing money and investing in long-term assets like bridges and roads and water systems and wastewater systems, you can borrow money a whole lot more cheaply than infrastructures costs are going up.

So let's do it now, save money, build a substantive infrastructure for this country, and create an awful lot of jobs and economic growth all in one package.

BROWN: OK. Let me ask you about this, Gov. Rendell, because you've said yourself that Pennsylvania has the most dangerous bridges, I think, in the country. There is a lot of information to back that up.

But you need to, I think, make this case to the rest of the country, if you're talking about federal dollars, is how much can the states pay for themselves?

If Pennsylvania needs the most help, why should the people of Montana, for example, be supporting the work that needs to be done in Pennsylvania?

RENDELL: Well, first of all, they shouldn't support it by themselves. The states and local government have to maintain the effort -- at least maintain the effort they're give now. But right now, Campbell, states and local government pay 75 percent of the infrastructure cost, 75 percent of the infrastructure cost that this nation spends.

We've got to continue to maintain that effort, no question. As I said, I've quadrupled the amount of money that Pennsylvania spends on bridges. But it's the same reason that we all take care of each other in this country.

Pennsylvania is a big agricultural state, and so is New York, but let's take New Jersey, not a big agricultural state. They pay for agricultural subsidies that go to the western states. So we all pay for something that different parts of the country need that we don't necessarily need.

And yet we pay for it willingly. When New Orleans went down, there wasn't one Pennsylvanian who said, the federal government shouldn't help New Orleans because that won't help us. We're one country. We'll have to pay for the needs.

And by the way, Montana needs infrastructure help too. Gov. Schweitzer is a very strong advocate of this. Montana needs a different type of infrastructure help, they need power line construction, because unless we get power lines to where the energy is being produced, we're not going to have an energy system that's competitive.

So, each of us have our own regional needs. We all chip in and pay for the betterment of this country.

BROWN: Ed, here in New York, you've been encouraging people to try to drive less, focus on mass transit. You've got the push administration, though, suggesting that we take money away from mass transit to try to pay for this problem.

BLOOMBERG: Well, in all fairness to the Bush administration, they did offer us $354 million to institute congestion pricing. We, unfortunately, walked away from the federal money. So I don't think you can -- there are a lot of disagreements with the Bush administration, that's not one of them. They were really trying to be helpful to us.

I think we have to do our roads. We have to do mass transit. The needs of cities are different than the needs of rural areas. But you know ... you go out west, they don't have enough water to keep the farm industry going, which is the way we eat. And they don't -- we don't have enough mass transit to get people to and from airports.

If you take a look overseas, every other developing country is investing. China just invested $70 billion. They say it's for the Olympics, but what it is, is building the infrastructure for Beijing: new airports, new subways, new roads, new stadiums, new buildings.

That's the kind of investment that we have to go and do here, and we have to do it nationwide.

And our jobs are starting to go overseas. Our crazy immigration policy is hurting this country. We're going to see science go overseas. We're going to see businesses start overseas. You talk to a businessperson, they want to be able to have their company where they can fly in and out.

If you can't get to the airport or if the airport can't handle the traffic, they can't have their business. This is the future. This is your kids and my kids, your grandkids and my grandkids. This is their future. And it's easy to say, well, you know, I don't want to do it now, I'll wait until better times. You won't have better times unless you make the investments now.

BROWN: Gov. Rendell, let me drill down on something that you touched on earlier. These creative solutions out there to try to raise money, and you are pushing for a plan to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike to a group from Spain. And this has been happening in some places where foreign companies have taken over infrastructure in this country.

Is that something that as a nation we should be comfortable with, letting foreign-owned companies manage our infrastructure? I mean, even from a national security perspective is that a good idea?

RENDELL: Well, as long as the state or the federal government maintains ultimate control. And we're leasing, not selling. That's a big difference. We control when tolls can go up and how much they can go up. We control how the maintenance has to be done.

And by the way, it's already here. When people say to me in Pennsylvania, well, we don't want a Spanish company owning one of our assets, I say, number one, we're leasing it. But number two, then don't fly into Orlando to take your kids to Disney World, because Albertus manages the Orlando airport.

And it's happening all over the country. It's a good thing. We're becoming one world and American companies are doing a lot abroad.

Foreign companies are doing a lot here. As long as government has the ultimate authority, it's a plus.

We will only lease the turnpike if that can generate significantly more dollars for our transportation needs in the state of Pennsylvania than conventional financing can. And we're trying to figure that out right now.

BLOOMBERG: Campbell, let me -- on other thing. Step back and say, why do these foreign countries have the money to invest here and we don't have it ourselves? The answer is, they've been investing at home.

I had -- my girlfriend and I had dinner with the ambassador to the United Nations of one of the emirates. He and his wife, and the whole meal he talked about all of their efforts to free themselves from dependence on foreign oil.

They produce oil. They sell oil. But they know someday it's going to run out, and they don't want to have to be dependent on somebody else. And here we are in this country. We are afraid to raise taxes, which is what the Europeans did to force you to use less gasoline and drive smaller cars.

We don't want to drill. We don't want nuclear plans. We don't want windmills off the coast where we can see them. We have a crazy petroleum or energy plan that is really a subsidy to farmers, which is just destroying a big part of this world because it's forcing food costs up for us and for everybody else.

Other countries are doing the right thing, which is why that's where the money is. And to say we don't want the money when we are out there exporting it, our companies are trying to do work in their countries is just about as shortsighted a thing as we could possibly do.

BROWN: Let me ask you -- change the subject a little bit, ask you about the power grid here. Last summer in New York, 100,000 people went without power. And it was in the middle of a very hot summer. They were without power for nine days, this summer, we have been lucky so far, I guess, is it luck or has the problem been dealt with?

BLOOMBERG: Well, we have a very good utility company. If you look at -- they are not perfect, but if you look at the statistics of power outages, it's far and away I think the -- it's fair to say the best large distribution company in the country.

They have invested a $1.5 billion, $2 billion over the last year in new feeder cables and that sort of thing. We -- the city has put together a program where we can help them know where there is a problem, get our resources to help people there much quicker.

And then there is also the fact that we've been lucky. Bottom line is, let's hope it continues. There are people who lose power. But fortunately, when they lose power, police, fire, or emergency management, health, we know how to respond to make sure we keep people safe.

And we spend a lot of money to make sure that if it was a hurricane, we could evacuate people. We have a place to take them. They would have food and bedding and clothing. If they needed dialysis, we could get that for them. If they had pets, we can take care of them. It's that kind of infrastructure planning. That's not buying hard equipment, that's providing the training and the people on the ground who, if we need it, it's there.

BROWN: Let me end this way, I guess. Is -- frankly, what we're hearing tonight is some pretty scary stuff, I think, for a lot of people.

Give us the bright side Mayor Rendell. I mean, how confident are you that these problems can and will -- Oh, I'm sorry -- Gov. Rendell, can and will be fixed. I mean, can they ever be?

RENDELL: Well, they can be. There's no question. If we're willing to do a couple of things. One, change the way politics works in Washington, about distribution of infrastructure funds. If we're willing to do that, if we're willing to put our money where our mouth us, invest in our economy, invest in public safety, invest in quality of life for Americans, we can do this.

The Europeans have done it. They're in the process of upgrading their infrastructure again. The EU nations are -- they have a vision where they want to be by 2020, in infrastructure. And it involves things like building a canal from the North Sea to the Black Sea. It's an incredible plan.

If we can plan and if we're willing to find the money to do this, we'll be able to not only have an improved infrastructure, create new jobs and economic vitality. But, good infrastructure planning leads to sustainable communities and helps the environment.

We've got to expand freight lines because freight lines use so much less gasoline than highway traffic. We've got to build a passenger rail system. There shouldn't be any flights in America 500 miles or less.

There aren't in Europe. You take trains all the time. You -- there are no flights to be found on cities that are 500 miles or less, in distance, apart.

And we can do this. It's a question of political will. But, the reason we founded in building America's future is that political will comes from people understanding this issue and people saying, yes, it's right. I'm willing to spend a little bit more money if it's going to make American more competitive, it's going to improve our roads, make our bridges safer. Those are the things that we have to generate public opinion for.

It's the reason that the Mayor and I are two pretty busy folks. And so is Gov. Schwarzenegger. He'd be with us, were it not for the fires that are going on in California. But, it's the reason that three of the busiest state and local government executives in the country have devoted so much time to this issue. Because we need a wake up call, and we need it now. It cannot wait.

BROWN: Mayor Bloomberg?

BLOOMBERG: The reason to have to hope is that we're America. We do some stupid things every once in a while. But, we do have a history of 235 years of coming to our senses, pulling together, doing what's right for the people of this country and for the world. We have an awful lot to be proud of.

But, it's time for leadership. And that's what we need out of Washington. Both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, both sides of the aisle.

It's a problem for the entire country and in fact, it's a problem for the world because we are so big.

What we do here, impacts the ability of an awful lot of the 6 billion people on this planet to live every day. We have a responsibility to do what's for them, what's right for our kids. And it's making the investments, it's sucking it up. It's stop complaining about things and let's go do it. And I think if you have Rendell the mayor. He was a great mayor of Philadelphia; he's a great governor of Pennsylvania. Schwarzenegger. These are people who go out and they do things. And they don't just complain. And I'm just thrilled to be working with them.

We've got to do that. And I think the people of Pennsylvania, the people of California, the people of New York City are well served.

We're going to make the investments. If the federal government doesn't come through, all three of us, I guarantee you, will find the resources to do it. We just can't do it as quickly, and we can't do it as efficiently, and we can't help the rest of the country.

But we're not going to wait for any bridge to fall down. We're not going wait for any dike to fail. We're not going to wait to not have a school to go to. Another part of our infrastructure are the people who can respond in an emergency. We're going to make those investments.

It's just an awful lot tougher when you have to do it yourself.

BROWN: All right. Guys, I can't let either of you go until I ask just one political question.

Mayor Bloomberg, either candidate asking you for personal information as part of a betting process for VP?

BLOOMBERG: You know, both candidates I suspect, would like my vote. I will go to the ballot box, I will vote for one of the two ...

BROWN: Any closer to deciding which one?

BLOOMBERG: If I am, it's in my head. I'm going to work as hard as I can, seriously, to get both of them explicitly say, what they'd do, how'd they pay for it and how they would get Congress to go along.

We're all tired of listening to, "I'm in favor of motherhood and apple pie." So is everybody else. We need leadership, and I think that public really does have two clear choices here. They're both people I've gotten to know over the years; I call them business friends, I suppose. They both bring different things to the party; they're both great Americans.

And the public is going to have to decide who can build relations back up around the world, who can rally the public, who can get Congress to come up with a consensus opinion and pass laws, who can have the stomach to go through the tough times. Because we're going to have to some very tough times where there's no right choice, there's no easy answer. And they're going to both -- whoever gets elected, be really tried. The next four, eight years for this country and for the world are going to have some really daunting challenges.

We have not addressed health care; we have not addressed immigration. We've not addressed energy independence; we've not addressed the infrastructure that Ed and Arnold and myself are talking about. Health care. There's a whole bunch of things where they're complex, no right solutions. We need leadership.

BROWN: Gov. Rendell, I know you're supporting Sen. Obama.

Has anybody called you to bet you for a possible VP job?

RENDELL: No, it's very lonely in Harrisburg. Nobody's called; nobody's written.


But, let me say this. I agree with what the mayor said about what this country needs. And one of the reasons that I'm supporting Sen. Obama is, I think he is committed to investing in solving the problems of America.

It's not going to happen on the cheap. And when I hear people say, "no new taxes." That's a prescription for us to become a third-rate economic power. If we don't invest in ourselves, if we don't grow -- grow our infrastructure, grow our energy economy. If we don't do those things, then America is going to fall behind and it's going to hurt each and every citizen in this country.

I believe Sen. Obama's much more willing and much more aggressive about rolling up his sleeves and attacking those challenges. That's why I'm for Sen. Obama.

But, no. Nobody's called.

BROWN: Nobody's called?

RENDELL: You should call me and just ask one night; it would cheer me up a little bit.

BROWN: All right. Well, we'll do that. We'll absolutely do that.

Gov. Ed Rendell, Mayor Mike Bloomberg, appreciate your time tonight. Thank you both so much.

RENDELL: Thanks, Campbell.


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