If you ask George Pataki how his presidential campaign has been going these last 11 days, he’s pretty optimistic.
“I’m very encouraged,” the former New York governor told Bloomberg following his speech at the annual gathering of the Association for the Improvement of American Infrastructure, a group that advocates for private investments in public infrastructure project. “You know we went from nowhere and, without any advertising nationally, just with the announcement and the energy and enthusiasm generated from that, the next CNN poll showed I was in the top 10 and would make the August debate.”
In the latest CNN/ORC poll conducted from May 29-31 (the former governor announced on May 28), 3 percent of voters said they would support Pataki for president, up from less than one percent in CNN’s April poll. The new numbers put him in 10th place, tied with Donald Trump. The poll’s margin of error was ±4.5 percentage points.
“Now, whether that’s the case come August 6 who knows, but it just showed that there is this opportunity and we got off to, I believe, a very strong start,” Pataki said.
The speech at the AIAI meeting, held in Midtown Manhattan at the same building as the Women’s National Republican Club, was one of Pataki’s first policy talks since announcing his presidential campaign late last month. In the 20-minute address he praised the vision behind projects like the Eerie Canal, the transcontinental railroad and the interstate highway system.
“All three major infrastructure projects, all three inspired and supported by government, all three transformational beyond their simple infrastructure,” Pataki said.
Pataki outlined some policy proposals, including incentivizing states to partner with the private sector, developing a national infrastructure priorities list, and funding the Highway Tax Fund—a federal fund that pays for infrastructure projects—by raising the corporate tax rate.
Pataki also threw some jabs at the Obama administration, including a critique of the 2009 stimulus package. “Eight hundred and forty-seven billion dollars allocated by the federal government for shovel-ready infrastructure. Do you know how much actually went to the Department of Transportation projects? $48 billion.” he said. “Eight hundred and forty-seven billion dollars that was supposed to go to infrastructure, about five percent actually went to infrastructure programs.”
According to the federal government’s data, the stimulus cost about $840 million, but the majority of it was not meant for infrastructure—over $200 billion was designated for tax credits to individuals and businesses. (The Pataki campaign did not immediately return a request for comment.)
The stimulus criticism fit into a larger theme: ambitious infrastructure projects are good, but only if they’re based on good ideas, and not politics.
“So many of the projects funded by the federal government make no economic sense at all and are being done for political reasons,” Pataki said. “How many bridges to nowhere do we have to have Washington finance before we understand that there’s a way to check that?”
Among the business leaders pushing for private investment in infrastructure, Pataki was a hit.
“Clearly he knew his audience, but I think the feelings he expressed were pretty heartfelt,” Richard A. Fierce, the senior vice president of infrastructure at Fluor Enterprises and the president of the AIAI board, said. “I think we all were pretty impressed with his comments.”