Bloomberg reports on President Trump’s infrastructure plan:
The 53-page document details how Trump plans to stimulate at least $1.5 trillion in new investment, shorten project permitting time to two years, invest in rural projects and improve worker training. The newest elements of the proposal include expanding the use of tax-exempt debt, letting states add tolls on interstates and making it easier to lease airports and other public assets.
The plan calls for allowing federal authorities to sell assets to state, local or private entities. Ronald Reagan and Dulles International airports in Washington and the George Washington and Baltimore Washington parkway, as well as some power lines, are among those cited.
The plan’s premise is that the government would spend $200 billion to spur states, localities and the private sector to raise the $1.3 trillion balance, giving Congress a blueprint for passing legislation. Since the federal government owns very little infrastructure, the Trump plan aims to create local funding and streamline permitting. The White House rolled out the plan on the same day as it delivered its $4.4 trillion fiscal 2019 federal budget proposal.
This is a joke. For starters, states do not have the money, which is why the federal government (which can do things like raise the federal gas tax) traditionally funds a large percentage of the cost. (“Right now, federally funded highways (that’s interstates and other routes) are financed on the basis of an 80-20 federal-state split, and federally funded mass transit projects usually get a 50-50 split,” Vox reports. “Trump’s proposal is to flip the 80-20 formula on its head and require that states and cities kick in at least $4 for every $1 in federal money they receive.”) Moreover, it is not at all clear that $200 billion in new money is actually going to be spent on infrastructure. (The Post reports that “the White House is suggesting that lawmakers cut money from elsewhere in the budget, including some existing infrastructure programs. That prospect seems unlikely given that Congress just last week reached a bipartisan deal to spend significantly more funds over the coming two years.”)
To make matters worse, Trump seems keen on funding this at least in part by a non-starter selling off of federal assets, including Dulles International and Reagan National airports. (“Efforts to privatize federal assets were discussed early in the administration by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, National Economic Council director Gary Cohn and other advisers as a preferred way to come up with capital for much needed improvements. But it was also lambasted as irresponsible by opponents.”)
Moreover, Republicans who hold most governorships have shown no inclination to spend huge sums of money. Like Trump, they fancy tax cuts and therefore have little left over to finance large infrastructure projects.
And perhaps most important, Trump shows little urgency or even interest in the plan. He declared, “What was very important to me was the military; what was very important to me was the tax cuts; and what was very important to me was regulation. This is of great importance, but it’s not nearly of that category because the states will have to do it themselves if we don’t do it.” Well that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, is it?
There are a few reasons why the infrastructure roll-out is so underwhelming. First, right-wing Republican lawmakers don’t want to do it. (After spending on the military and tax cuts, they declare the cupboard is bare.) Second, it is not a divisive issue that is going to rile up his base and create a media firestorm. Unless an issue does that, the president frankly does not care all that much about it. (Axios reports that “with an eye to getting Republicans excited about voting for Republicans in midterms, the president this year will be looking for ‘unexpected cultural flashpoints’ — like the NFL and kneeling — that he can latch onto in person and on Twitter.”) And finally, there is no big push from donors as there was for tax cuts.
In short, an issue that could bring Democrats and Republicans together and do something for the long-term economic benefit of the country holds little attraction for Trump. The only infrastructure he ever has cared about is his wall — a surefire way to gin up his hardcore xenophobic base.