One of the pillars of President Trump’s inaugural State of the Union address to Congress Tuesday night will be the announcement of a long-awaited infrastructure plan which the New York businessman has been touting since 2016.
The legislative outline, which will be sent to federal lawmakers in the coming days, is expected to include a request for approximately $200 billion in funding over 10 years for a projected $1 trillion–$1.8 trillion total overhaul of America’s transportation systems and energy, water and broadband infrastructure.
State and local governments, as well as private investors, will be incentivized by the federal government to finance the majority of construction costs, according to a draft of the White House’s “Funding Principles” leaked to multiple media outlets last week. Specifically, the document proposes awarding block grants for infrastructure project financiers, up to 20 percent of the total cost.
In addition, 25 percent of total federal funding proposed by the White House is slated for transportation and internet access improvements in rural areas, while another 10 percent will be allocated for “Transformative Projects” which are deemed risky but innovative and otherwise unable to obtain private financing.
While Trump may be lauded by some for taking a new approach to spur infrastructure improvement on a national scale, elected officials from both parties have already dug into the details of how such a massive undertaking would work both on the federal and local levels and where federal dollars will come from to pay for it.
Democrats have complained that Trump’s approach fails to provide enough federal investment and that any political good-will to achieve a compromise on such a piece of landmark legislation in Congress has been wasted over the past year.
“Before the swearing-in, it was the one area of hope Democrats had that we could find some common ground, ’cause we agreed that infrastructure desperately needs serious investment in America to stay competitive,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said. “But I don’t think there are many of us left who labor under that hope any longer.”
Other chief Democratic concerns resulting from an admittedly small amount of federal money currently proposed for infrastructure include local debt issues, privatization of the public domain, e.g., more tolls, and relaxed environmental regulations laid out in a subsequent White House document. The administration argues that simplifying federal oversight protocol would make projects easier to build and speed-up the regulatory review process.
On the other side of the aisle, multiple GOP lawmakers spoke out against a U.S. Chamber of Commerce proposal to raise the federal gasoline tax by 25 cents per gallon over the next five years at a Koch network donor meeting in California over the weekend. Chamber President Tom Donohue issued a statement earlier in January calling on Washington to pass a national infrastructure package, paid for, in-part, by increasing the gas tax from 18.4 cents to more than 43 cents by 2022.
Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), along with Koch-supported political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity president, Tim Phillips, all indicated opposition to the plan which would raise an estimated $394 billion over 10 years.
On Tuesday, White House watchdog Democracy Forward released a report highlighting how Trump’s plan, devised by an “Infrastructure Council”, would enrich two New York real estate developers with personal ties to the president.
The panel, which Democracy Forward claims operated “illegally for nearly half a year”, was in direct communication with Department of Transportation Sec. Elaine Chao, who referenced the Trump administration’s opposition to a rail and tunnel renovation project sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in an email to council members Steven Roth and Richard LeFrak.
As of December 2017, Washington has put a hold on an Obama-era deal made between the states of New York and New Jersey and the Federal Transit Administration, which would have used federal dollars to fund slightly less than half of the $30 billion project.
Editor’s note: Updated — 1/30, 10:06 a.m. EST.
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