Feds own lit­tle in­fras­truc­ture for pres­i­dent to try to pri­va­tize

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY S.A. MILLER

A coali­tion of lib­eral ac­tivists and Demo­cratic law­mak­ers has launched a na­tional cam­paign against Pres­i­dent Trump’s in­fras­truc­ture pro­gram that ac­cuses him of at­tempt­ing to pri­va­tize the coun­try’s high­ways, bridges and other pub­lic as­sets.

There’s one prob­lem: The fed­eral govern­ment doesn’t own most of that stuff.

By one mea­sure, state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments and the pri­vate sec­tor own 97 per­cent of the na­tion’s non­de­fense in­fras­truc­ture, and they fund 94 per­cent of it, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by Chris Ed­wards, di­rec­tor of tax pol­icy stud­ies at the lib­er­tar­ian Cato In­sti­tute.

The re­port ex­am­ined data from the U.S. Bureau of Eco­nomic Analysis that showed the fed­eral govern­ment owned $1.5 tril­lion of non­de­fense in­fras­truc­ture, com­pared to state and lo­cal govern­ment own­ing $10.1 tril­lion and the pri­vate sec­tor own­ing $40.7 tril­lion.

Still, the Mil­lions of Jobs Coali­tion is look­ing for at least $1 tril­lion of direct fed­eral spend­ing to re­pair and re­place Amer­i­can in­fras­truc­ture, which has de­graded to 12th in the world, ac­cord­ing to the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum.

“Don­ald Trump wants to sell off our roads to for­eign gov­ern­ments and give tax­payer dol­lars to Wall Street bil­lion­aires, and he calls that job cre­ation?” said Rep. Mark Po­can, Wis­con­sin Demo­crat and a mem­ber of the coali­tion.

As Mr. Trump pushed his re­build­ing plan with a se­ries of events last week, he met at the White House with a group of gov­er­nors and may­ors who have author­ity over their state and mu­nic­i­pal in­fras­truc­ture, in­clud­ing high­ways, bridges and wa­ter sys­tems.

“To­gether, we’re go­ing to re­build Amer­ica,” he told the eight gov­er­nors and 10 may­ors at the meet­ing. “For too long, Wash­ing­ton has slowed down your projects and driven up your costs and driven up be­yond any­thing even rec­og­niz­able. Those days are over.”

The two sides couldn’t be fur­ther apart as the de­bate digs into the cen­tral ques­tion of the role of the fed­eral govern­ment that divides lib­er­als and con­ser­va­tives.

The fed­eral govern­ment’s mea­ger hold­ings in­clude fea­tures such as dams, postal build­ings and the air traf­fic con­trol sys­tem. But high­ways — in­clud­ing the en­tire in­ter­state high­way sys­tem — roads, bridges and schools are owned by lo­cal and state gov­ern­ments.

The coun­try’s vast ar­ray of pipe­lines, power sta­tions, rail­ways, fac­to­ries and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions net­works are owned by busi­nesses, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

Mr. Trump’s pro­pos­als — in­clud­ing a push to pri­va­tize the air traf­fic con­trol sys­tem and use pub­licpri­vate part­ner­ships to fi­nance some con­struc­tion projects — fueled the left’s ac­cu­sa­tions of a sell-off.

“Don­ald Trump wants to sell off our roads, bridges and other pub­lic as­sets to for­eign cor­po­ra­tions and his Wall Street bil­lion­aire friends — al­low­ing them to hit Amer­i­cans with new tolls and put our money in their pock­ets. Pri­va­tiz­ing air traf­fic con­trollers — paid for by hik­ing user fees on Amer­i­can con­sumers — is just the first step in this di­rec­tion,” said Tate Haus­man, a leader of the Mil­lions of Jobs Coali­tion.

The coali­tion was formed by la­bor, en­vi­ron­men­tal, racial jus­tice and other lib­eral ac­tivists to op­pose Mr. Trump’s in­fras­truc­ture plan, which is a top pri­or­ity of the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The group has the back­ing of Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee lead­ers and Demo­cratic law­mak­ers, in­clud­ing the House Pro­gres­sive Cau­cus.

Coali­tion mem­ber Rep. Jamie Raskin said the pres­i­dent was try­ing to per­pe­trate a “scam.”

“It is a com­plete di­ver­sion from what we need to be do­ing. It’s an ab­di­ca­tion of pub­lic re­spon­si­bil­ity — and it’s a money-mak­ing op­er­a­tion. And that is the thing that is most in­sult­ing about it,” the Mary­land Demo­crat said in a con­fer­ence call with re­porters.

A spokesman for the coali­tion did not re­spond to ques­tions about the fed­eral govern­ment’s lim­ited own­er­ship of in­fras­truc­ture.

Their rhetoric has been echoed by Demo­cratic lead­ers at the high­est lev­els.

“The en­tire fo­cus of the pres­i­dent’s in­fras­truc­ture ‘pro­posal’ is on pri­va­ti­za­tion, which sounds like a nice word, but when you scratch be­neath the sur­face, it means much less con­struc­tion and far fewer jobs, par­tic­u­larly in ru­ral ar­eas,” said Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Demo­crat.

Mr. Trump’s $200 bil­lion plan does in­clude pri­va­ti­za­tion, most promi­nently the am­bi­tious pro­posal to re­move air traf­fic con­trol (ATC) from the Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion and put it in the hands of a self-fi­nanced, non­profit cor­po­ra­tion.

Dozens of coun­tries have pri­va­tized ATC in this way, in­clud­ing state-of-the-art sys­tems in Canada and Aus­tralia.

How­ever, the thrust of Mr. Trump’s pro­pos­als are about rolling back fed­eral reg­u­la­tions and stream­ing the ap­proval and per­mit­ting process to lower costs and speed up projects by state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments and the pri­vate sec­tor.

The pres­i­dent, who al­ready has slashed scores of fed­eral reg­u­la­tions, said he wants to re­duce the ap­proval process for in­fras­truc­ture pro­tects from 10 years to two years or less.

“It should not take 10 years to get ap­provals for a very small, lit­tle piece of in­fras­truc­ture. And it won’t. Be­cause un­der my ad­min­is­tra­tion, it’s not go­ing to hap­pen like that any­more,” Mr. Trump said at an event in Cincin­nati, Ohio, to high­light plans to ren­o­vate in­land wa­ter­ways.

“We will work di­rectly with state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments to give them the free­dom and flex­i­bil­ity they need to re­vi­tal­ize our na­tion’s in­fras­truc­ture,” he said.

To up­grade some of the locks and dams that haven’t been over­hauled since they were built in the 1930s on the Mis­sis­sippi and Ohio rivers, the Trump plan re­lies on user fees in­stead of fed­eral tax dol­lars.

For the most part, the ship­ping in­dus­try hasn’t balked at the fees yet.

Over­all, Mr. Trump pro­posed $200 bil­lion of fed­eral tax­payer fund­ing for the in­fras­truc­ture pro­gram, which is sup­posed to lever­age a to­tal pub­lic-pri­vate in­vest­ment of $1 tril­lion over 10 years.

The spend­ing, about $20 bil­lion a year for 10 years, would be on top of the roughly $124 bil­lion a year the fed­eral govern­ment al­ready spends on build­ing and main­tain­ing in­fras­truc­ture.

Mr. Ed­wards said Mr. Trump was on the right path, pri­va­tiz­ing some as­pects of in­fras­truc­ture and get­ting the feds out of the way to al­low state and lo­cal govern­ment and the pri­vate sec­tor to make spend­ing de­ci­sions.

“I would be more rad­i­cal on pri­va­ti­za­tion, of course, but they move in the right di­rec­tion,” Mr. Ed­wards told The Wash­ing­ton Times.

He also pro­posed re­duc­ing fed­eral spend­ing on these projects to force state and lo­cal govern­ment to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for their in­fras­truc­ture.

Mr. Trump’s plan didn’t go that far.

Mr. Ed­wards’ re­port, pub­lished in Cato’s Tax & Bud­get Bul­letin, ar­gued that dereg­u­la­tion would limit in­ter­fer­ence by the fed­eral govern­ment that drives up the cost of build­ing and re­pair­ing in­fras­truc­ture.

“The fed­eral govern­ment is the tail that wags the dog on the na­tion’s in­fras­truc­ture — and not in a good way,” he wrote in the re­port.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.