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President Trump unveiled his long-awaited infrastructure plan last week. In broad terms the plan calls for using $200 billion in federal funding to stimulate $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investment over the next decade. The $200 billion includes $100 billion in grants for state, local and private infrastructure investment projects; $50 billion for rural projects that would be distributed largely as block grants to governors; and $20 billion for a “transformative projects program” that would provide funding and technical assistance for projects that could “dramatically improve infrastructure.” The $200 billion would come from cuts to other federal programs.
Mike Friedberg, a senior advisor on transportation issues for the Washington D.C.-based law firm Holland & Knight and a former top GOP staffer for the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, praised the Trump administration’s effort to move away from a transportation funding system largely dictated by Washington.
“We need to come up with something that’s different and this is a good attempt,” he said.
But former Transportation Secretary and ex-U.S. Rep Ray LaHood, who is also a Republican, told NPR’s Morning Edition that doing away with the longstanding 50-50 split between the federal and state and local governments for transit projects and the 80-20 split for highway projects as envisaged by Trump’s plan “probably won’t work because the states and local governments don’t have any money.”
Columbia, South Carolina’s Democratic mayor, Steve Benjamin, also expressed concern that most of the $200 billion the Trump plan relies on would come from cuts to transit, community development and other programs cities depend on.
“It’s important to build roads and bridges,” he said, adding that “it’s also important to give people ladders of opportunity so they can earn a living and house their families and feed their families.”
The New York Times, meanwhile, pointed out that the plan’s infrastructure grant program places far more emphasis on a project’s ability to pay for itself without federal money (weighted 70 percent) than on its potential to “spur economic and social returns on investment” (weighted 5 percent).
“Instead of the public sector deciding on public needs and public priorities, the projects that are most attractive to private investors are the ones that will go to the head of the line,” Elliot Sclar, a professor of urban planning and international affairs at Columbia University, told the Times. “Private investors will become the tail that will wag the dog, because they’ll want projects that will give returns.”
Trump’s plan will be debated by several committees in the U.S. House and Senate. The president is also reportedly still open to increasing the federal gas tax to provide additional infrastructure funding. As Friedberg noted senior White House officials are saying the plan is not “a take it or leave it proposal,” but instead “the start of a negotiation.” (USA TODAY, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO, NEW YORK TIMES, HILL, WHITE HOUSE)