Will Trump live up to his in­fra­struc­ture prom­ises?

Lob­by­ists be­gin to won­der if pres­i­dent-elect re­ally meant what he said

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

WASH­ING­TON: Even as they ma­neu­ver for a share of the $1 tril­lion in spend­ing Don­ald Trump promised to re­build Amer­ica’s roads, bridges and air­ports, lob­by­ists for trans­porta­tion and util­ity in­dus­tries are be­gin­ning to won­der whether Trump re­ally meant what he said.

From the day he for­mally en­tered the pres­i­den­tial race to the mo­ment he de­clared vic­tory, Trump pledged to re­build the na­tion’s ag­ing and in­ad­e­quate in­fra­struc­ture. He cited de­cay­ing bridges, pot­holed roads and air­ports like New York’s LaGuardia that he said re­minded him of the “third world.”

Trump or his cam­paign also men­tioned schools, hos­pi­tals, pipe­lines, water treat­ment plants and the elec­tri­cal grid as part of a job-cre­ation strat­egy that would make the US. “sec­ond to none.” It was a rare area in which House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats hoped for com­mon ground with the pres­i­dent-elect. The pos­si­bil­ity of a ma­jor in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing plan is one of sev­eral fac­tors that have fu­eled the re­cent run-up in stock prices. But lately lob­by­ists have be­gun to fear that there won’t be an in­fra­struc­ture pro­posal at all, or at least not the grand plan they’d been led to ex­pect. Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell tried to tamp down ex­pec­ta­tions last week, telling re­porters he wants to avoid “a $1 tril­lion stim­u­lus.” And Reince Priebus, who will be Trump’s chief of staff, said in a ra­dio in­ter­view that the new ad­min­is­tra­tion will fo­cus in its first nine months with other is­sues like health care and rewrit­ing tax laws. He sidestepped ques­tions about the in­fra­struc­ture plan.

In a post-elec­tion in­ter­view with The New York Times, Trump him­self seemed to back away, say­ing in­fra­struc­ture won’t be a “core” part of the first few years of his ad­min­is­tra­tion. But he said there will still be “a very large-scale in­fra­struc­ture bill.” He ac­knowl­edged that he didn’t re­al­ize dur­ing the cam­paign that New Deal-style pro­pos­als to put peo­ple to work build­ing in­fra­struc­ture might con­flict with his party’s small-gov­ern­ment phi­los­o­phy.

“That’s not a very Repub­li­can thing - I didn’t even know that, frankly,” he said. Since the elec­tion, Trump has backed away - or at least sug­gested flex­i­bil­ity - on a range of is­sues that en­er­gized his sup­port­ers dur­ing the cam­paign, in­clud­ing his prom­ises to pros­e­cute Hil­lary Clin­ton, pull out of the Paris cli­mate change ac­cord and re­in­sti­tute wa­ter­board­ing for de­tainees. Trump tran­si­tion of­fi­cials didn’t im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment. The mixed sig­nals on in­fra­struc­ture have lob­by­ists and law­mak­ers puz­zled. “We’re wor­ried,” said Brian Tur­mail, a spokesman for the As­so­ci­ated Gen­eral Con­trac­tors of Amer­ica, which rep­re­sents more than 26,000 con­struc­tion com­pa­nies and 10,500 ser­vice providers and sup­pli­ers.

“Are we hear­ing signs that peo­ple just don’t know what the plan is? Or signs that peo­ple don’t want any kind of plan?” he said. “We don’t know the an­swer.” Lob­by­ists have re­sponded by flood­ing the Trump tran­si­tion team with brief­ing memos, lin­ing up meet­ings and pri­vately pitch­ing their pro­pos­als to what they hope will be a more re­cep­tive Congress.

Trade as­so­ci­a­tions are urg­ing their lo­cal mem­bers to seek out their se­na­tors and House mem­bers while they’re home for the hol­i­days. The con­trac­tors’ association held a news con­fer­ence in front of a bridge con­struc­tion project in Lit­tle Rock, Arkansas. The Amer­i­can Road and Trans­porta­tion Builders Association has given mem­bers form let­ters to send their law­mak­ers, while qui­etly float­ing a plan for new trans­porta­tion fees to pro­vide re­li­able sources of ad­di­tional in­come for the fed­eral High­way Trust Fund. Lead­ers of the US Con­fer­ence of May­ors em­pha­sized their sup­port for an in­fra­struc­ture pro­gram in a re­cent meet­ing with Trump and urged him to pro­tect the mu­nic­i­pal bond tax ex­emp­tion, one of the pri­mary ways lo­cal­i­ties raise money for projects.

Pri­vate in­vestors

The Air­ports Coun­cil In­ter­na­tional-North Amer­ica is lob­by­ing to raise the limit on fees air­ports charge air­line pas­sen­gers. The money goes to ren­o­vate or ex­pand ter­mi­nals and in­crease the num­ber of gates.

Trump’s cam­paign pitch for in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ments in­cluded few de­tails. A pa­per cir­cu­lated af­ter the elec­tion rec­om­mends us­ing $167 bil­lion in fed­eral tax cred­its to gen­er­ate $1 tril­lion in pri­vate-sec­tor in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment over a decade. To off­set the cost of the cred­its, US cor­po­ra­tions would be en­cour­aged to bring home prof­its that they have parked over­seas to avoid taxes, in ex­change for a lower tax rate. But pri­vate in­vestors are typ­i­cally in­ter­ested only in projects that cre­ate rev­enue, such as tolls, so that they can re­coup their in­vest­ments.

What states and com­mu­ni­ties need most is more di­rect spend­ing, rather than tax cred­its, to help pay for up­keep and re­place­ment of ex­ist­ing roads, bridges and tran­sit sys­tems, said Bud Wright, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tion of the Amer­i­can Association of State High­way and Trans­porta­tion Of­fi­cials. “Those aren’t nec­es­sar­ily projects that lend them­selves to gen­er­at­ing rev­enue,” he said.

It’s also pos­si­ble tax cred­its would pro­vide a wind­fall to in­vestors in ex­ist­ing projects while fail­ing to gen­er­ate new ones. Some law­mak­ers from both par­ties are urg­ing the cre­ation of a fed­eral “in­fra­struc­ture bank” to make low-cost loans to projects. “Every­body is putting to­gether their Christmas lists for what they want to see in an in­fra­struc­ture bill,” said Kevin Gluba, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Al­liance for In­no­va­tion and In­fra­struc­ture. “The big­gest ques­tion: Who is go­ing to pay for it? Many of the ideas float­ing around are far too pricey to make into law.” —AP

BAY­ONNE: In this Nov 15, 2016, file photo, a worker lifts ma­te­ri­als as con­struc­tion con­tin­ues on the new road­way deck of the Bay­onne Bridge in Bay­onne, NJ. Even as they ma­neu­ver for a share of the $1 tril­lion in spend­ing Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump promised to re­build Amer­ica’s roads, bridges and air­ports, lob­by­ists for trans­porta­tion and util­ity in­dus­tries are be­gin­ning to won­der whether Trump re­ally meant what he said. — AP

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