Trump’s plan for in­fra­struc­ture crit­i­cized as a pri­va­tiz­ing ‘scam’

Pro­posal re­lies on funds from lo­cal gov­ern­ments

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS / NATION / WORLD - Bart Jansen

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Trump will un­veil his long-awaited in­fra­struc­ture pro­posal Mon­day to shift $200 bil­lion over the next decade from other fed­eral pro­grams to pave the way for $1.5 tril­lion for roads, bridges, wa­ter­ways and rail­ways.

Trump’s ap­proach is to let Con­gress ne­go­ti­ate the de­tails. His four ob­jec­tives are to stim­u­late new in­vest­ment, stream­line fed­eral per­mit­ting, in­vest in ru­ral projects and im­prove the work­force, ac­cord­ing to four se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials who briefed re­porters Satur­day.

Spurring con­struc­tion is broadly pop­u­lar. But crit­ics al­ready are call­ing Trump’s ap­proach “fake” and a “scam” for its lack of new rev­enue and be­cause of its re­liance on fund­ing from lo­cal gov­ern­ments and pri­vate in­vestors.

“This fake pro­posal will not ad­dress the se­ri­ous in­fra­struc­ture needs fac­ing this coun­try, so our pot­holed roads will get worse, our bridges and tran­sit sys­tems will be­come more dan­ger­ous, and our tolls will be­come higher,” Rep. Peter DeFazio of Ore­gon, the top Demo­crat on the Trans­porta­tion and In­fra­struc­ture Com­mit­tee, said in a Satur­day ra­dio ad­dress.

Trump’s pro­posal is built on top of ex­ist­ing con­struc­tion pro­grams with an eye to­ward en­cour­ag­ing greater lo­cal in­vest­ment, ac­cord­ing to se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials. Polls show peo­ple would pre­fer to have projects de­ter­mined lo­cally, rather than send­ing their money to Wash­ing­ton, ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cials.

Con­gress still could de­velop its own fund­ing. Trump is open to new sources of rev­enue, ac­cord­ing to se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials.

In 2015, law­mak­ers patched $70 bil­lion from sources such as a Fed­eral Re­serve sur­plus, Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion fees and the sale of part of the strate­gic petroleum re­serve in or­der to pro­vide $305 bil­lion for the last fiveyear high­way bill.

The gas tax tra­di­tion­ally funded the high­way trust fund. But the tax has re­mained 18.4 cents per gal­lon since 1993, and it hasn’t kept pace with in­fla­tion as cars be­came more fuel-ef­fi­cient.

The U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce, an in­flu­en­tial ad­vo­cacy group for busi­nesses, pro­posed in Jan­u­ary rais­ing the gas tax 5 cents each year for five years to gen­er­ate $394 bil­lion over a decade.

“It’s the sim­plest, fairest and most ef­fec­tive way to raise the money we need for roads, bridges and tran­sit,” Cham­ber CEO Tom Dono­hue said.

Un­der Trump’s bud­get, the $200 bil­lion in fed­eral fund­ing will be taken from other pro­grams that are cut or elim­i­nated, ac­cord­ing to se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials. The pre­cise trade-offs aren’t des­ig­nated.

Trump’s pri­or­i­ties in­clude $100 bil­lion for in­cen­tive fund­ing to match lo­cal in­vest­ments; $50 bil­lion for ru­ral projects dis­trib­uted as block grants to gover­nors; $20 bil­lion for ex­pand­ing loan pro­grams and pri­vate bonds for roads, wa­ter­ways and rail­ways; $20 bil­lion for trans­for­ma­tive projects with a vi­sion for the fu­ture; and $10 bil­lion for fed­eral build­ing projects.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment tra­di­tion­ally pro­vided 80% of fund­ing for qual­i­fied high­way con­struc­tion. But Trump’s in­cen­tive fund­ing is pro­jected to pro­vide 10% or 20% of a project’s cost to gen­er­ate $500 bil­lion to $1 tril­lion in to­tal in­vest­ment, ac­cord­ing to se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials.

Lo­cal match­ing funds could come from sales or prop­erty taxes, or user fees. Tolls would be one way to spur pri­vate in­vest­ment in roads or bridges. But they wouldn’t be fi­nan­cially jus­ti­fi­able ev­ery­where.

“This is not a real in­fra­struc­ture plan — it’s sim­ply an­other scam, an at­tempt by this ad­min­is­tra­tion to pri­va­tize crit­i­cal gov­ern­ment func­tions, and cre­ate wind­falls for their bud­dies on Wall Street,” DeFazio said.

“This fake pro­posal will not ad­dress the se­ri­ous in­fra­struc­ture needs fac­ing this coun­try.”

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment tra­di­tion­ally pro­vided 80% of fund­ing for qual­i­fied road con­struc­tion. Trump’s plan is to pro­vide as lit­tle as 10%. SETH PERL­MAN/AP

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