Politics & Government

Schwarzenegger looking to make infrastructure sexier

WASHINGTON -- California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called himself an "infrastructure fanatic" on Saturday, but he said U.S. politicians need to do a better job of marketing if they want to spend more on fixing the nation's roads and bridges.

"The word infrastructure means nothing to the majority of people of America," Schwarzenegger said. "We have to come up with a sexier word than infrastructure."

Taking the national stage in Washington just a day after signing off on California's state budget, the Republican governor criticized the federal government for spending too little on infrastructure projects and for not doing enough planning to see them through.

"There's really no plan in Washington," he said.

Schwarzenegger, appearing at the winter meetings of the National Governors Association, said the United States should follow the lead of nations such as France, Germany, Japan and Germany in developing high-speed rail systems. He said that would result in people taking fewer flights of 200 miles or less while creating less pollution at the same time.

"I think it is important for us to recognize that our infrastructure in this country is like a developing country rather than a developed country because we've fallen behind," Schwarzenegger said. "One thing, for instance, is the rail system. When you think about it, our trains go the same speed today as they did a hundred years ago, so where's the progress?"

Schwarzenegger offered California's approach as a way to build public support for infrastructure projects. The governor's $42 billion strategic growth plan, which was approved by voters in 2006, included money for levees, transit and transportation projects, classrooms and housing, among other things.

The governor said his plan represented "a big, big step forward" for California and suggested it could serve as a national model.

"The federal government has to obviously do the same thing," Schwarzenegger said.

The state's marketing was successful, the governor said, because state officials made it simple to understand. Rather than talking about infrastructure, they asked residents if they were angry about getting stuck in traffic every day and if they were tired of having their children in overcrowded classrooms.

Schwarzenegger said the $787 economic stimulus package signed by President Barack Obama would benefit the state and create much-needed jobs. The White House is estimating that it could save or create nearly 400,000 jobs in the state in the next two years.

"Is it perfect? No, but I think it's a terrific package," the governor said. He criticized it moments later, saying "the only disappointing part" was that it spent too little -- $115 billion -- on infrastructure projects. "We all felt, as infrastructure fanatics, we hoped that we would get $300 billion or $400 billion."

Later in the day, Schwarzenegger co-chaired a meeting with 11 other governors and Obama's top energy and environment officials to discuss a state-federal partnership on clean energy and climate change issues. And he promised to have "a close and lasting partnership" with the new administration on climate change issues.

"California has been focusing on green jobs, alternative fuels, renewable energy, and reducing the urgent threat of global warming while at the same time benefiting our economy, and we hope that our efforts will now act as a model for change at the federal level," Schwarzenegger said.

The governor will be in Washington through Monday. He will appear on the Sunday morning talk shows, first on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopolous" and later on CNN. He'll attend a dinner with other governors at the White House Sunday night, where the entertainment will feature the band Earth, Wind and Fire. And on Monday, he's expected to meet with President Barack Obama and cabinet secretaries.