Interviews

New call for Congress to spend more on infrastructure

St. Paul, Minnesota Mayor Chris Coleman weighs in

 

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," May 7, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST OF "YOUR WORLD": Well, from ramping up spending there to a bit push for a lot more of it here.

My next guest says that's exactly what we need to do to get the economy going. The Democratic mayor of Saint Paul, Minnesota, wants Congress to approve more infrastructure spending.

Mayor Chris Coleman joins me right now.

Mayor, given the dicey track record on such spending here and everywhere, what makes you think doing more of it is going to be the charm?

CHRIS COLEMAN (D), MAYOR OF SAINT PAUL, MINNESOTA: Well, I don’t think it's been a dicey track record at all.

I think it's been a pretty proven record of success for decades in this country. It's been a bipartisan effort.

CAVUTO: Have you seen our growth, Mayor? Have you seen our growth? It is barely growth at all.

COLEMAN: Well, what I've seen are critical infrastructure projects that have allowed our businesses and corporations to move goods more efficiently, quicker, for people to get in and out of airports, the basic infrastructure that's critically important for people to get to work, to get to school, and for our economies to grow.

And if you don't invest in this kind of infrastructure, it's going to hamper our companies, it's going to hamper our citizens, and it's going to make it very, very difficult for us to do the basic things that cities and townships all across America need to keep on moving forward.

CAVUTO: Well, that's assuming the money we committed to infrastructure spending, if that's what you believe, Mayor, has even been finished or completed, the roads and the bridges and everything else, the airports, everything is up to speed and running again. I don’t think it is yet.

COLEMAN: Well...

CAVUTO: But, secondly, you are talking about spending money we don’t have.

COLEMAN: Well, listen, first of all, I think that you can come to the Twin Cities of Saint Paul and Minneapolis and see very clearly where infrastructure spending has made a huge difference.

We're in the middle of a light-rail construction project that will connect downtown Saint Paul to downtown Minneapolis, connect the University of Minnesota, one of the largest universities in the country, The State Capitol Complex and over 13 different medical centers along that line, critical for students, critical for employees at those hospitals, critical for commerce to move.

You can go to the 35W Bridge that collapsed and killed 13 people. And not only was it a tragic loss of life and the dozens, if not hundreds of families whose lives were changed forever, but that affected our business community. It made it very difficult to move through this area. It made it difficult to transport goods from one part of the Twin Cities to another.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: You might be right. On a certain measure, it improves just people getting around and all that. But I just look at the aggregate national numbers.

And I think, for all the money we've invested, the trillions when you think of stimulus and some of these other rescues, the bottom line is that we are just off a period where we had a surprisingly weak employment report, factory orders are now going in reverse, housing isn’t budging, retail sales are slowing.

If this is what we get spending over $1 trillion, Mayor, what would we get if we didn't invest that at all?

COLEMAN: Well, first of all, if you didn’t invest that at all, you would have our ports across the country, including a port on the Mississippi River in the city of Saint Paul, shutting down because they wouldn’t be able to continue operations.

And you would shut down all the businesses that were dependent upon those ports and dependent upon barge traffic on the Mississippi River. If we’re not fixing our locks and dams systems, if we’re not fixing our airport system, it makes it very, very difficult. In the city -- in the state of Minnesota...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: We don’t have money, Mayor. I guess the part...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: You talk about strategic investment and where...

(CROSSTALK)

COLEMAN: We do have...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: No, we don’t. We don’t. We don’t.

COLEMAN: Well, Neil, I disagree.

(CROSSTALK)

COLEMAN: Neil, I disagree.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: We have over a $1 trillion deficit.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: We are piling them up to the point of having more that we owe than what we make in this country. That is a global first.

COLEMAN: Neil...

CAVUTO: Mayor, your ideas might be very sound...

COLEMAN: Well...

CAVUTO: ... and you might recognize the value in doing them, but we don’t have the money to do them.

COLEMAN: Well, Neil, I would disagree because if you look at our leaders, when the transportation bill was passed in the Minnesota state legislature and presented to then Governor Pawlenty, he vetoed it. Who rallied behind that bill to get it overridden by the state legislature?

It was the business leadership of the Twin City community and the Fortune 500 companies, the 20 Fortune 500 companies in this area that said we absolutely need that. We’re willing to pay more.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: Your state wasn’t broke at the time. Our country is. What part of broke, Mayor, don’t you understand? We’re broke.

(CROSSTALK)

COLEMAN: What I -- what I don’t understand is how you can sit there and say that we’re going to grow our way into the future by not investing.

There’s absolutely no way that can continue to do it. So it’s not just about the jobs and the people that are critically in need of work right now.

CAVUTO: Do you think there is any value, Mayor -- instead of the government calling the shots about what should be strategically invested, is there any wisdom at all with giving average folks their money back so they can decide what to do?

COLEMAN: Well, the average folks can’t build a freeway on their own. The average folks can’t build a rail system on their own. And the average folks can’t improve...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: Yeah, but if the average folks had the money to do what they wanted with their money, it would provide the revenues for you to address the things that you consider vital, not that everyone would agree.

COLEMAN: Well, that’s not true.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: But we have an environment where very few people are.

COLEMAN: Neil, if you look the fact we haven’t raised our gas tax in any significant way in the state of Minnesota for years, and yet the condition of our roads have deteriorated. The amount of time that people are stuck in traffic has increased dramatically. The loss of revenue that has accrued because of...

(CROSSTALK)

COLEMAN: ... is very significant.

CAVUTO: Mayor, I’m sorry, sir, but you seem to be caught up on people getting caught in traffic and not people in this country getting caught up in a morass of red ink and spending that shows no resolution.

And all I’m saying is, when you’re building...

COLEMAN: But, Neil, if you can’t -- if you can’t get to a job...

CAVUTO: ... and digging a deep hole, you’ve got to put the shovel down.

COLEMAN: You also have to invest in the future. You have to invest in the critical infrastructure that's going to make this country hum and get our companies successful.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: All right, but you cannot invest what you don't have, right?

COLEMAN: If companies are more successful, they can hire more people.

CAVUTO: All right.

COLEMAN: They can put more money into the economy. If you can get to the job sooner because you are not stuck in a traffic jam...

CAVUTO: All right.

COLEMAN: ... if you're not wasting gas because you're stuck for 20 or 30 minutes a day while your car is idling in the middle of a freeway....

CAVUTO: All right. All right.

COLEMAN: ... all of those things are ultimately -- and I think that problem is, we do not look at the big picture. We look at the most narrow part of the corner. It's like a horse at the Kentucky Derby that has got the blinders on.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: No, no, no, no, Mayor, with all due respect, I think you're not looking at the big picture. You're looking at getting people out of traffic jams. My hats off to you, but you are not looking at the big picture of nationally and our not getting any bang for all those bucks. That's all I'm saying.

COLEMAN: Well, I can -- Neil, come to the Twin Cities and I'll show you the bang for the buck. I will show where we have invested...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: All right, but there are more than the Twin Cities, Mayor. That's all I'm saying. There are more than the Twin Cities,

COLEMAN: All right. Well, I can...

CAVUTO: There's a whole country that feels it's wasting a lot of money. That's all.

COLEMAN: I can go to towns in Virginia. I can go to towns in New York.

CAVUTO: OK.

COLEMAN: I can go to that -- I can go to...

CAVUTO: All right.

COLEMAN: ... the traffic congestion that’s going to be caused by the failure to continue the projects.

CAVUTO: All right. All right. All right. I got you on traffic. I got you on traffic.

Mayor, thank you very much.

COLEMAN: Well, it's not just traffic.

CAVUTO: Understood. Understood.

COLEMAN: It's business community, Neil. They need this.

CAVUTO: All right.

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