One of the key aspects of President Obama’s jobs plan is an idea that’s been knocking around Washington for some time: a national infrastructure bank that would leverage private investment to fund new roads, bridges, mass transit and other public-works endeavors. Here’s how it would work.
The proposal, modeled after a bipartisan bill in the Senate, would take $10 billion in start-up money and identify transportation, water or energy projects that lack funding. Eligible projects would need to be worth at least $100 million and provide “a clear public benefit.” The bank would then work with private investors to finance the project through cheap long-term loans or loan guarantees, with the government picking up no more than half the tab — ideally, much less — for any given project.
Critics have deemed the idea risky for taxpayers, and those voices will no doubt get louder after the collapse of Solyndra, a California-based solar manufacturer that received a $535 million loan guarantee from the Energy Department only to go bankrupt in August.