Overdrive Extra

Max Heine

Road trippin’: Trump’s hollow infrastructure pledge

| September 01, 2017

Things aren’t looking so hot for President Trump’s illusory promise to deliver $1 trillion in infrastructure spending.

Turns out his fledgling Advisory Council on Infrastructure, established by executive order July 19, won’t see the light of day. This followed the dissolution of three advisory councils (two business, one arts), prompted by their members quitting to protest Trump’s comments on the violent Charlottesville, Virginia, rally.

Trump’s promise to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure depends largely on private investment and is showing little sign of materializing.

Too bad about the infrastructure council. Considering what little progress he’s made, Trump could’ve used some help.

On Aug. 15, the president signed an executive order to reduce the permitting process to two years for infrastructure projects. He claimed that environmental permitting is holding up major plans, many of them freight-related.

That drew a rebuttal from Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), ranking member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, reported ForConstructionPros.com.

“Less than 1% of federal infrastructure projects require the type of rigorous environmental review he lamented yesterday,” DeFazio said, citing the Council on Environmental Quality and the Congressional Research Service. “He is ignoring the fact that it will take real federal investment and partnership with the states to rebuild our infrastructure.”

Indeed. Congress has for years dodged fixing the bankrupt Highway Trust Fund. It’s handicapped by a fuel tax-based formula that hasn’t kept up with economic changes, as well as political cowardice to raises taxes.

In response, more than half of the states have hiked fuel taxes since 2013, notes the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan institute. At the same time, “states are cutting infrastructure spending as a share of the economy, the opposite of what is needed,” the center says. The New York Times reports that total government spending on transportation and other public works was “1.4 percent of the nation’s economic output in the second quarter of 2017, the lowest level on record.”

Trump’s proposed 2018 budget will reduce infrastructure spending long-term, says the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. It says that beginning in 2021, the Highway Trust Fund “will spend no more in a given year than the dedicated revenues it receives.” This would precipitate a growing deficit for the fund.

Private transportation investment has increased in recent years, but it’s not at a pace that’s going to be the silver bullet for crumbling infrastructure and choked highways. Yet private investment and the states are the bulk of Trump’s $1 trillion promise, expected to provide $800 billion in response to $200 billion in federal spending.

Much of that $200 billion appears to be incentives for private projects with profit potential, such as toll roads and bridges. That means not only an extra burden on citizens and the trucking industry, but also a lack of stimulus for the many infrastructure needs that are unsuited for investors.

This industry and the public at large deserve a rational plan, not smoke and mirrors, for maintaining and improving our infrastructure.

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