Infrastructure Part 3: Durham
Guest Post - John White, Director of Public Policy, Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce
Earlier this year, I was asked to take part in a webinar to discuss our involvement and the passage of a ½ cent sales tax for transit. While awaiting my turn to present on the issue, I listened to others familiar with the topic as they advised on how to best prepare for a ballot issue campaign. One person recommended having no less than $100K to fund campaign efforts, while another referenced needing at least a year to prepare, plan and educate the public on your issue. As I listened to these two individuals talk, I thought to myself this ought to be interesting….
In 2008, the North Carolina General Assembly passed enabling legislation allowing 94 counties the opportunity to charge & use a ¼ cent sales tax. The legislation also provided Durham, Orange and Wake County’s, also known as the Triangle, the opportunity to charge & use a ½ cent sales tax, for transit enhancements, with voter approval. Since 2009, the Durham Chamber and surrounding chambers have been at the table discussing this issue with the NC Dept. of Transportation as well as our elected officials at the state and local level. Unlike the other chambers, the Durham Chamber of Commerce is the only Chamber in the Triangle that has a dedicated committee to the topic of Transportation. In the summer of 2011, the Durham Board of County Commissioners decided to put this issue on the November 2011 ballot for voters to decide on. Given the Chambers role and attention to transit issues, the Durham Chamber stepped up and took the lead in organizing a campaign committee. I staffed the Durham Transit Campaign Committee and organized efforts of which led to the passage of the transit referendum. Having received 60.1% support for this ballot measure, to date, Durham is the only county that has successfully passed the ½ cent sales tax for transit within the Triangle region and the second in the State of N.C. (Mecklenburg County, 2007).
At last it was my turn to speak to Durham’s success during the webinar. After providing an abbreviated timeline of events, I informed the audience that the Durham Transit Campaign Committee, led by the Durham Chamber of Commerce, had roughly four months to organize. We did not raise over $50K.
Every community is different and while we can use lessons learned in other areas, it doesn’t mean that information is translatable to every community. Chambers are institutions that by design are forced to know business interest, community interest as well as who the players are within our respective communities. I’m glad to say that the Durham Chamber of Commerce understands how important this is and has been able to benefit from extending ourselves outside of the traditional box of business. Why should this example matter to business community? Since our success with this campaign, our creditability as an organization has risen along with the communities desire to work with the business community. Sure, people still come to us to sponsor most of everything. Nonetheless, we take this as part of the territory, knowing that in the end we’ve made more people aware of what we are capable of doing and the continual impact and reach chambers of commerce have!
Infrastructure Part 2: Stamford
Stamford, Conn.: Banking on Infrastructure
Transportation issues are becoming critical for Connecticut. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, nearly a third of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient, 45 percent of its major roads are in mediocre or poor condition, and 58 percent of its urban highways are congested.
Following a comprehensive study of infrastructure issues in 2010, the Business Council of Fairfield County (BCFC) in Stamford issued a statement noting that:
· Infrastructure is critical to economic competitiveness.
· The U.S. and Connecticut have fallen behind most of the world’s developed nations in infrastructure quality and capacity.
· The balance sheets and budget deficits of our national and state governments do not allow enough investment to maintain our current position, let alone close the gap with our major competitors.
· Increased infrastructure investment can’t wait until public sector fiscal health returns.
BCFC then created a stakeholder group, the Infrastructure Investment Task Force, consisting of utilities, consulting firms, academics, economists and other companies that had a strong infrastructure focus. This group was able to develop an understanding of the county’s infrastructure issues, put them into context and assess state level opportunities. It was determined that Connecticut’s need is $85 billion over 20 years to maintain, repair and enhance existing systems, add capacity and expand services, and transform the key systems of transportation, energy and broadband.
The challenge is that they won’t be able to raise more than half of those funds through state funding and anticipated federal appropriations. To fill the gap, Connecticut will actively support all existing funding sources for infrastructure, support a national infrastructure bank, and explore state-level mechanisms to leverage public-private partnerships and improve how projects are selected.
Chris Bruhl, BCFC’s president and CEO, says BCFC’s relationship with author and New York University Senior Fellow Michael Likosky has helped with the council’s involvement in federal funding discussions. Likosky is an expert on public-private partnerships, has served on the BCFC stakeholder group, advised a number of states, elected officials and organizations, and is the author of Obama’s Bank: Financing a Durable New Deal, among other titles. Because of Likosky’s role with BCFC and other organizations, BCFC has been invited to participate in a national infrastructure bank think tank. BCFC also has found that this new area of policy involvement has generated a new membership stream for the chamber: companies that have interest or experience with infrastructure issues.
BCFC has been supportive of Connecticut’s Green Bank to leverage private sector investment in clean energy. The group also has a good relationship with the governor that has led to a senior staffer being appointed co-chair of the governor’s panel to deal with response to the tropical storm and snow storm that hit Connecticut with disastrous result in 2011. Gov. Dannel Malloy has been receptive to the council’s suggestions, and the council has been encouraged by his willingness to try new things. While it doesn’t necessarily mean that all plans will come to fruition, they are encouraged that Connecticut is becoming competitive.
Private money will be raised and invested, and if we didn’t act now, Connecticut could be left out. – Chris Bruhl, BCFC President & CEO