Don the builder

Our view: Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s best shot at early suc­cess is a bi­par­ti­san plan to re­pair and re­place ne­glected U.S. in­fra­struc­ture

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ODNE -

If Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump is the deal­maker that he claims to be, some­time be­tween now and Jan. 20, he ought to stop by the Long­worth House Of­fice Build­ing’s Room1632 and ask for John. The two men might find they have a few things to talk about.

That’s be­cause Rep. John K. De­laney of Mary­land’s 6th Dis­trict, a Demo­crat, has been a lead­ing voice in his party for lever­ag­ing greater pri­vate in­vest­ment in the na­tion’s fail­ing in­fra­struc­ture — its roads, bridges, air­ports, wa­ter and sewer sys­tems, rail lines, schools and the like. Dur­ing the cam­paign, Mr. Trump touted his own plan to in­crease such spend­ing by $1 tril­lion over the next 10 years, chiefly through tax in­cen­tives.

Both plans have their flaws. But at their core, they also have some­thing, if read­ers can par­don the ex­pres­sion, to build upon. En­cour­ag­ing greater pri­vate-sec­tor in­vest­ment in in­fra­struc­ture — build­ing pri­vately owned toll roads, for ex­am­ple — can be a net positive, and en­cour­ag­ing such projects through ap­pro­pri­ate changes in tax law can work as well. Mary­land’s best ex­am­ples of this are the pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships that built new rest stops on the John F. Kennedy High­way and fi­nanced a much-needed ex­pan­sion of the Port of Bal­ti­more.

As fre­quently as we have be­moaned Wash­ing­ton’s fail­ure to up­date the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s circa-1993 gas tax to re­flect 21st-cen­tury re­al­i­ties (the higher cost of con­struc­tion, the re­duced rate of fuel con­sump­tion and the need to en­cour­age con­ser­va­tion in the wake of cli­mate change), it’s clear that a Repub­li­can­con­trolled Congress and a Re­pub­li­can pres­i­dent are un­likely to raise the fed­eral gas tax from its cur­rent 18.4 cents per gal­lon. But it’s also clear that Repub­li­cans can’t in­crease needed in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing with­out Demo­cratic votes — too many in the GOP’s ul­tra-or­tho­dox wing are al­ler­gic to a yes vote on the sub­ject.

And­makenomis­take, this is needed spend­ing. The­most re­cent re­port card from the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of Civil En­gi­neers rates U.S. in­fra­struc­ture at a D-plus and in need of a $3.6 tril­lion boost. The prob­lem didn’t hap­pen overnight; we’ve main­tained a sys­temic un­der­in­vest­ment in in­fra­struc­ture over decades. But it rep­re­sents a “yu­u­uge,” as the pres­i­dent-elect might say, im­ped­i­ment to the na­tion’s econ­omy if the dis­re­pair is al­lowed to con­tinue.

Mr. De­laney’s Part­ner­ship to Build Amer­ica Act would use repa­tri­ated cor­po­rate prof­its now held over­seas (made avail­able by a re­duced tax rate on over­seas earn­ings brought home and a larger tax on prof­its that re­main off-shore) to put bil­lions in the High­way Trust Fund and to cre­ate a bank — a $750 bil­lion in­fra­struc­ture fund — that would be avail­able to state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments. The beauty of this con­cept is that it spares The na­tion’s econ­omy would ben­e­fit greatly from in­vest­ments in out­dated in­fra­struc­ture, like Bal­ti­more’s Howard Street tun­nel. Repub­li­cans from rais­ing taxes but still con­trib­utes to tra­di­tional gov­ern­ment-man­aged in­fra­struc­ture.

Mr. Trump’s plan, while lack­ing in specifics, has al­ready been crit­i­cized as more of a profit op­por­tu­nity for large cor­po­ra­tions than any real fix for ne­glected in­fra­struc­ture. It’s one thing to find pri­vate eq­uity to cre­ate a toll road, it’s another to find in­vestors anx­ious to sink mil­lions into lead-free wa­ter pipes in Flint, Mich. Yet there are pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties out there, as Mary­land’s re­cent ex­am­ples demon­strate, that ought to be en­cour­aged.

The so­lu­tion? Prob­a­bly a deal with Democrats that takes the best of both pro­pos­als and per­haps adds an in­fla­tion-es­ca­la­tor to the fed­eral gas tax in fu­ture years. That’s not rais­ing taxes so much as em­brac­ing the re­al­i­ties of ba­sic eco­nomics. And given the na­tion’s his­tor­i­cally low gaso­line prices of late, we se­ri­ously doubt Trump sup­port­ers will be both­ered by a penny or two in fu­ture years — par­tic­u­larly if it means tens of thousands of new jobs cre­ated al­most overnight by in­fra­struc­ture con­struc­tion projects.

Here’s the best part. Democrats have al­ready sig­naled a de­sire to work with Mr. Trump on this is­sue. Given the undi­min­ished (and per­haps even ris­ing) levels of anx­i­ety among tra­di­tional Demo­cratic sup­port­ers fol­low­ing the elec­tion, that’s not some­thing to be taken lightly. As House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi ob­served, a ro­bust jobs and in­fra­struc­ture bill could al­low the two sides to “work to­gether.” That’s a deal prac­ti­cally begging to be done.


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