The White House has unveiled President Trump’s long-awaited infrastructure plan which calls for 1.5 trillion new dollars in spending and investment. The plan though, is light on actual investment from the federal government, with Washington only expected to contribute $200 billion of the price tag.
The program calls for incentive programs that match federal grants with revenue streams from state, local and private sources. The administration says this will encourage local stake holders to invest in projects in their communities.
“It’s all about how do we get people to compete around in projects that they truly care about,” a senior administration official said during a briefing with reporters over the weekend. “And how do we know they truly care about them? Well, because they’ve got a lot of skin in the game on the project.”
The official said that all too often state and local governments tout the economic benefits of a project but are reluctant to invest in it themselves. “‘This is an absolutely critical project, it has to be done, it’s vital to our community. Our economy will boom if we do this.’ And I ask, ‘How much you’ve invested in it?’ And they’re like, ‘No, we’re not investing in anything. We’d like you to invest in it,’” the official said.
There are real concerns however that the lack of federal funds might translate into investment not just from state, local and private sources, but ultimately from taxpayers who may have to pay higher state and local taxes or “user fees” such as tolls, on roads and bridges.
“Hedge funds and wealthy investors will want projects that generate a profit by charging middle-class Americans hundreds of dollars a year in tolls, taxes and fees,” Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote in an op-ed just before Trump’s State of the Union address. “Our nation’s roads, bridges and tunnels would become tools for wealthy investors to profit off the middle class rather than the job-creating public assets they ought to be.”
The President’s plan faces an uphill climb in Congress with Democrats critical of the plan’s parameters and Republicans displeased with the fact that the cost of the plan isn’t offset with cuts to other programs.