from Renewing America

Morning Brief: Streetcar Revival Earns Mixed Reviews

A brightly colored streetcar moves past the Ferry Building in San Francisco in May, 2012 (Robert Galbraith/Courtesy Reuters).

August 15, 2012

A brightly colored streetcar moves past the Ferry Building in San Francisco in May, 2012 (Robert Galbraith/Courtesy Reuters).
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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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Urban planners and federal grants are increasingly encouraging cities to embrace streetcars (WSJ). Proponents look to Portland's experience and see an opportunity to attract young people and revive neighborhoods, while detractors see high costs and little benefit for systems that do not reach beyond the city. "I would love a rail system that actually gets people to work, not just to buy a sandwich," offered the director of Cincinnati’s Homeless Coalition.

The first Renewing America Progress Report and Infographic Scorecard provides a critical assessment of federal transportation policy, including a description of major policy initiatives and important steps policymakers must take to revitalize critical infrastructure.

Bring Back Build America Bonds

In Bloomberg View, CFR's Peter Orszag argued for the reinstatement of Build America Bonds (BAB). BABs help fund infrastructure investment and provide a direct subsidy to state and local governments that is not dependent on the marginal tax rate of the purchaser--in contrast to most municipal bonds. BABs also can attract a broader swath of investors and drive down interest rates on traditional municipal bonds.

Infrastructure. Read more on how upgrading the nation’s aging network of roads, bridges, airports, railways, and water systems is essential to maintaining U.S. competitiveness.

Education and Human Capital

Preview of Common Core Testing

Two large groups of states are deploying federal grants to develop tests (Education Week) for the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), expected to come out in 2014-15. Sample test questions are providing a preview of the future exams. One expert commented: "What we are starting to see here are tests that really get at a deeper understanding on the part of students, not just superficial knowledge, but unless students are really prepared for them, it’s going to be a huge challenge."

The report of CFR's Independent Task Force on U.S. Education Reform and National Security, co-chaired by Joel I. Klein and Condoleezza Rice, highlights the importance of CCSS and asserts that fixing the nation’s underperforming K-12 schools is critical to economic competitiveness and national security.

Education and human capital. Read more from experts discussing ways to improve U.S. education and immigration policies.


Silicon Valley’s Dreamers May Yield to Well-Connected

The recent success of Square, a mobile payment startup, may herald a shift in Silicon Valley (NYT). Analysts say Square's innovation model is similar to Thomas Edison's: identify areas ripe for innovation, build a new solution based largely upon existing technology and leverage access to resources and networks. This paradigm shifts opportunity from the innovator working in a garage to the established player; as the author puts it: "Silicon Valley will become less about the dreamers and more about the marketers, the connected and the everyday."

CFR's Edward Alden says that policies that focus solely on ensuring that big innovations come from within U.S. borders may be misguided because so much innovation is global. The U.S. economy can benefit from innovations developed elsewhere, he says.

Innovation. Read more on how the U.S. capacity to innovate could play a chief role in economic growth.

Debt and Deficits

Virginia Expects to Pay State Bonuses

Virginia Governor McDonnell is expected to announce that the state's growing revenues and falling costs will allow it to pay around $80 million in employment bonuses (AP). "Tens of millions" of dollars in savings are expected from Medicaid, and over $100 million may have been saved overall. Unlike the experience of many other states, individual income tax and sales tax receipts have remained strong.

Debt and deficits. Read more from experts on the challenges in reducing U.S. debt.

The Morning Brief is compiled by Renewing America contributor Steven J. Markovich.

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