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Roads to Ruin: Interview with Gov. Schwarzenegger

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- CNN's Campbell Brown spoke with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger about Tuesday's magnitude-5.4 earthquake that hit Los Angeles. She asked the Republican governor if his state was ready for the "Big One," and Schwarzenegger spoke about his state's infrastructure and what he wants to do to fix it.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger

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

CAMPBELL BROWN: I'm back now with an "Election Center" special, "Roads to Ruin: Why America is Falling Apart." Every year, vehicles travel 3 trillion miles over the country's bridges. California has more than 24,000 of those bridges, and nearly 7,000 of them need to be repaired or replaced. Joining me now is California's Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Gov. Schwarzenegger, welcome to you. Thanks for joining us.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me.

BROWN: I want to ask you to scare us, frankly, for a minute. This is the same question I asked [New York] Mayor Bloomberg and [Pennsylvania] Gov. [Ed] Rendell (see related transcript). And set up the problem. It's been a year since the Minnesota bridge collapsed. Thirteen people died. If we continue at this rate, if we don't act, in your view, what is the nightmare scenario? What keeps you up at night worrying?

SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, I think that we all recognize that our infrastructure is outdated, and it needs ... better upkeep by the federal government. And I think that we will have problems, like the Minnesota bridge or like Katrina in New Orleans, [Louisiana] when levees collapsed and did not hold up.

This will happen, and it will continue to happen. And I think that it is very important for the federal government to recognize that they're falling behind and that it is really, I think, unfair to the people that are paying the taxes, that do the hard work. And they're not getting the services and the kind of upkeep they deserve. And here, a lot of lives are getting lost because of that.

So I think that what we want to do is this partnership here, to build America's future, is all about, you know, going to put the pressure and the spotlight on this issue, and to let especially the candidates know, both candidates, [Democratic Sen. Barack] Obama and [Republican Sen. John] McCain, know that this ought to be a priority for them when they become -- when one of them becomes president.

BROWN: As we were reminded with yesterday's earthquake, when it comes to infrastructure, you have some unique challenges. Governor, some criticism about what happened after the earthquake. The phone lines were overloaded, making it difficult to get through to 911. How would you rate the state's readiness and response?

SCHWARZENEGGER: We are really ready here in this state, and I think it is because we have so many emergency situations, so many disasters, so many fires and earthquakes and mudslides and things like that. We have an Office of Emergency Services that works very closely with the local government and also with the federal government, and this is why we are so quick in responding to all of those disasters and also to the fires.

But the fact is, here's the perfect example, because we now have changed the fire season -- it used to be it was late summer, early fall -- now it's all year round. So we immediately jump into action, and we are raising now our homeowner insurance fees by a little bit so that we can buy this extra 131 trucks, fire engines, and also the extra 11 helicopters that we need in order to adjust to these new challenges.

That's, again, a sign of how quickly we have to react if you see a change.

And I think that the federal government also has to do the same thing, because we can't continue on to decrease the amount of money that is being spent in infrastructure. I mean, they have cut in half, basically, since the '50s, since the Eisenhower era, on infrastructure spending, when you look at the Gross Domestic Product, the percentage of the Gross Domestic Product that is spent on infrastructure.

So all of this, I think, is really bad news. I don't know where the money goes, but to assume it goes to social programs or to the Iraqi war, wherever, we should really put money aside to rebuild our infrastructure. Because the fact is that all of the buildings and the bridges and the highways that we built during the -- you know, the '40s, the Roosevelt era, and in the '50s, during the Eisenhower era, I mean, we're enjoying all this great infrastructure, but it's getting old, and it starts falling apart, and it needs upkeep. And the federal government has to wake up and serve the people of America.

BROWN: I want to get more into that in just a second, but I want to ask you one more question on the earthquake. This is a small quake, but there are plenty of experts out there who do think that a big one is going to happen in our lifetime. Is California ready for that?

SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, absolutely. I think that we are ready, but you know, you never know to what extent an earthquake is, or a fire is.

And I think that each time something like this happens, we always immediately get together, like for instance, with the phones that were down, like you said. We immediately have a meeting scheduled for this Friday with the locals in Los Angeles and also our Office of Emergency Services. And everyone gets together, and we have a meeting about it and see what can we do better for the next time?

So as you see that emergencies appear, the key thing is that you make the adjustment and you react right away and improve the situation.

And I think that we have seen, in some areas, for instance, also with the federal government, that they have responded much better now because of Katrina. When we have a fire out here, they needed to jump into action and did become great partners to help us put out those fires.

Now we just need them to be also great partners when it comes to rebuilding our infrastructure, because we in California here have made a commitment, a commitment two years ago, of $42 billion of infrastructure funds, to rebuild our roads, to build more bridges and tunnels and off-ramps and on-ramps and all of those kind of -- including schools and kids (INAUDIBLE), expand our university system, affordable housing. And I think that's what the federal government needs to do.

And this is why I'm so involved with Gov. Rendell and also Mayor Bloomberg, because all of them, they're action guys. They're, you know, really into infrastructure, and we can see what they're doing in the state or in the city, in New York, for instance.

BROWN: But I don't have to tell you, there is a lot of frustration at the state level by guys like you with what's happening at the federal -- at the federal level. And we are talking about a price tag, for dealing with this problem on a national level, of $1.6 trillion. I mean, where is that money going to come from? Would you support raising taxes for it?

SCHWARZENEGGER: People are paying taxes right now for this. The amount of taxes that we are paying right now, nationwide, is part of it, not just for the health care and education and military and all this kind of spending, but also for infrastructure. In the '50s, in the '40s, they always had a certain percentage set aside of the Gross Domestic Product for infrastructure. They just happened to cut it down and cut it down and pay it down, and you've got to kick the can down the alley and hoping that, during their administration, that no one would notice.

But the fact is, we all noticed.

And I think that the people are frustrated and angry, and when the people get stuck in traffic all the time, they are paying the taxes.

Why should they get stuck in traffic? We have -- if we had a certain percentage of cars driving over a bridge 50 years ago, and it's a two-lane bridge, and you see that the amount of traffic is now tenfold, then you have to build 10 times the amount of lanes across that bridge. It's common sense. You can't go and stay with those two lanes. So you've got to increase. You've got to spend the money on it. That's what our tax money goes for, is...

BROWN: But here's what our politicians in Washington are suggesting. John McCain, who you're supporting, called for a federal gas tax holiday. That gas tax is what pays for the bridge and road fixes that you're talking about here. Is that a mistake?

SCHWARZENEGGER: I wouldn't call it a mistake. I think that for him that is a solution to help people in America during the times when they travel the most. To ease a little bit, the pain.

BROWN: But it's taking money away from infrastructure.

SCHWARZENEGGER: I understand. I understand that. But, I'm just saying, that's something that you have to take up with him because it was not my proposal.

But, the bottom line is, is I think that we need to go and take the money that we are paying right now, in taxes, if it is a gasoline tax, or if it is an income tax, and use that money for infrastructure. And I think that Washington has been, again on this issue, asleep at the wheel. And I think it's very important that we all now put the pressure on the candidates running right now.

Because I think this administration is on the way out. Because that term is over. So, I don't think that they can create much change there. But, I think the candidates that are now running for president, they can make a difference. And all we want to do is just have them, in both of the conventions, at the Republican convention and at the Democratic convention, have those candidates mention that this is one of the top priorities for them to rebuild America. And that's why we're putting the spotlight on this issue. To wake up these new leaders, these potential new leaders and just say, make this a top priority.

BROWN: Sen. Obama has suggested that the billions being sent to Iraq would be a good place to start, in terms of diverting that money. Do you agree with that? Is that realistic?

SCHWARZENEGGER: It's political rhetoric. It doesn't make any sense at all because I mean, we have the war over there. You can't just grab that money and put it over here in the roads. It's the same thing as when the politicians go out and say, we should do all kinds of things.

We should tax the oil companies or we should do offshore drilling or alternative fuels, this will lower the price.

And I kept saying all along, all of what these politicians are saying does not lower the price right now. Because it would take 10 years to get to this point so that it lowers the price. The only one that can lower the price is the people themselves. They have the power to lower the price because they can go and check the engines. If the engines are running well, they have the right tire pressure. Or, if they're driving the right way and (INAUDIBLE) and kind of like, with you know, accelerating and putting the brakes and accelerating, all those kinds of things.

And look what has happened. It was the people that drove down the gas price now. The gas price is down from $150 a barrel to $120-some a barrel. That was people power. That's the power the people have. The politicians didn't do that, the people did that. So, I think it is, you know, a lot of rhetoric when they talk about it. Grab the money from Iraq, put it in the roads and this kind of thing.

I think we have, right now, money there, that we are paying in taxes. And I think they're responsible to build our infrastructure and keep it up to date.

BROWN: A lot of what we've heard here tonight, about our infrastructure problems, it's scary stuff for a lot of people. Give us the bright side. How confident are you that these problems can and ultimately will be fixed? And can they ever fully be?

SCHWARZENEGGER: First of all, I am very confident because I've seen it firsthand in California. For 40 years in California, we didn't build any infrastructure. Our roads were falling behind, people were getting stuck in traffic, kids were in overcrowded classrooms. Our levees were very vulnerable, more vulnerable than the ones in New Orleans. ... And then we started campaigning and campaigning and putting the spotlight on the importance of infrastructure.

And let me tell you something, after two years of doing that, in 2006 -- November of 2006, the Legislature approved the bonds and then the people of California approved those bonds. And now we are building. We are pushing out billions of dollars in building new roads and building all kinds of on-ramps and off-ramps and additional lanes and all kinds of things.

And extending our university system, building terrific education facilities. We are working around the clock to build our levees and strengthening our levees, especially in the most vulnerable areas. So there is all kinds of actions that have -- I want to see cranes everywhere. And you know something, now we are building. So I think the same thing can happen on the federal level. All we have to do is we have to have the will.

The will needs to be there for people and this is why it is important for McCain or for Obama to have the will. When they go in there to the White House, they'll say this is one of my top priorities. We are going to start rebuilding America.

BROWN: But you're not hearing that from either of them right now, are you?

SCHWARZENEGGER: Not enough. I have heard from both of the candidates but not enough. What I want to hear is at the convention both of them talking about the -- their making it a very important issue.

BROWN: Governor, I can't let you go without asking you just one political question. John McCain has been talking a lot about offshore drilling, as you know. A brand new poll out -- 69 percent of the country supporting now offshore drilling. You're at odds with your candidate, John McCain, on this. You're at odds with the majority of the country. If you believe that this is the right thing to do, how do you turn people around?

SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, you know, I am not trying to turn anyone around. I think that all I'm expressing is my opinion. And I promised the people of California when I ran that I will protect the environment in California, that I will fight for that, that I will find a happy medium where we protect the environment and also protect the economy, and part of that was to get rid of offshore drilling off the coast of California. And it's a promise that I made. I'm a strong believer that we should not do that here. We have had tremendous oil spills here in our state and off our coast and we don't want to go there again.

What we want to do is -- we actually did the opposite and we are having an ocean action plan that we have announced yesterday. We want to clean our oceans, clean the litter, get rid of all the dirt -- get the sewage that has been spilled out and really make our coast a pristine thing that when people from around the world come in can enjoy our coastline and our coast and our beaches and not have it polluted with oil.

BROWN: Gov. Schwarzenegger, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

SCHWARZENEGGER: Thank you very much. Thank you.

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