Now Is the Time to Pass Infrastructure Bill, Former HUD Secretary Says

February 6, 2019

By Carlo Versano

If there's one issue on which President Trump and Congress can work together, it's infrastructure. That's according to Henry Cisneros, a veteran private equity investor and former HUD Secretary under President Bill Clinton.

Trump called for a "great rebuilding of America's crumbling infrastructure" in his State of the Union address on Tuesday ー the third time he's floated an infrastructure deal in an address to Congress. But this time, with the House in the hands of Democrats and unlikely to work with the president on any of his divisive policy goals like immigration, there exists a fighting chance that this could finally be the year a major infrastructure bill is hammered out.

While Trump did not mention any specifics of an infrastructure overhaul policy, he called for a $1 trillion plan back in 2017 that would draw on both federal funds and private sector investment.

"That's a new kind of hybrid we haven't seen before," Cisneros told Cheddar. He thinks it's the way forward for a major refurbishing of the nation's airports, power grid, highways, ports, and internet bandwidth.

Much of the work that needs to be done today needed to be done back when Cisneros was working in the Clinton administration, he said. But since then, technological advancements ー from ridehailing to renewable energy ー are making the country's infrastructure even more stressed as it shoulders the demands of the modern age.

"We're behind and falling farther behind just because we haven't responded to these new technologies," he said.

But how do you raise more than a trillion dollars in an age of political gridlock? How do you even decide on what projects to tackle?

The public-private model is attractive because institutional capital ー think pension funds or university endowments ー is warming to the idea of allocating some of its assets in infrastructure plays as long-term investments. The returns aren't "hedge fund returns," Cisneros said, but they are reasonable and generally stable, because once a big construction project starts, it almost always gets completed.

And the benefits are widespread. Better infrastructure is crucial to both national security and economic competitiveness, and it makes people's' day-to-day lives better. With private cash looking to get in and the president looking for a policy win, this could at long last be the time to make something happen, Cisneros said.

"Maybe there's a chance to have a serious conversation among adults."

For full interview click here.