Robin Smith / Jan. 29, 2018

Make American Infrastructure Great Again

Donald Trump plans to announce some major infrastructure plans in his State of the Union.

“I’m a builder; I know how to build. Nobody can build like I can build. Nobody. And the builders in New York will tell you that. I build the best product.” —Donald Trump

These words from years ago offer a frame around the image President Trump will put forward in the State of the Union Address tomorrow when he proposes his infrastructure plan. His challenge will be to replace the old stereotype of government-sanctioned infrastructure programs that have historically overpromised and under-delivered.

Just think “shovel-ready” and the almost $1 trillion in crony spending that was wasted in the Barack Obama administration’s failed attempt to stimulate the economy. And, yes, it was a failed attempt. Instead, Obama’s stimulus was better known as a Blue State Bailout. In his own words about these supposed opportunities, “The shovel-ready was not as shovel ready as we expected.” That’s because it never produced even the 19,000 jobs projected — all it did was provide graft for his favored constituents.

There has been word of bipartisan willingness to move forward with a legislative infrastructure package to address needs across the country — one that fulfills a Trump campaign promise. Then-candidate Trump pledged “to repair the nation’s roads, bridges and transit systems,” and he’s moving to get to work on that part of his campaign platform.

Through a “leaked” document, a few details have been made public regarding the possible proposal. It will likely have Democrats and Republicans taking a serious look at the specifics to potentially support the wide range of improvements including water infrastructure, transportation and Veterans Affairs facilities. Trump will reportedly address five key points in his prime-time speech, one of which will be his call for bipartisan legislation to “improve roads, bridges and other infrastructure.”

The politics of Trump’s proposal will revolve around a couple of issues, depending from which side of the partisan aisle one views the pitch. From the Left, Democrats don’t want Trump to have any success and are in a tougher position after the stunt-gone-wrong government shutdown last week. The Democrats’ failure to produce jobs and community improvements after two terms of their imperialist leader provides a poor platform from which to throw rocks — especially at a concrete plan to make tremendous investments in projects that will, unlike many other government programs, result in visible results. Viewed from the Right, the framework to provide essential services and infrastructure will be supported with an eye on how the overall package will be funded without adding to our nation’s malignant debt. Republicans have an opportunity to make good on a Trump campaign promise that makes material improvements for both urban centers and rural communities.

The particulars of the proposal were outlined in the six-page memo entitled, “Funding Principles,” which leads off with the first item, “Infrastructure Incentives Initiative,” slated to receive a full 50% of the appropriated money. This priority is best summarized by reconstituting how projects are funded to permit more private, local and state investments. The second section, “Transformative Projects Infrastructure Program,” which will account for about 10% of the entire appropriation, describes “innovative and transformative projects” that involve “more risk than standard infrastructure projects.” That might include commercial space endeavors, telecommunications plans or even clean water projects. The third item noted, set to receive 25% of the total appropriation, is designated as the “Rural Infrastructure Program.” It includes not just transportation but also high-speed Internet access — as in a possibly nationalized 5G network.

But even this leaked document may be heavily edited based on concerns about funding proposals that emphasize the public-private partnerships with no mention of the Highway Trust Fund’s insolvency and future. States are clamoring for a healthy highway fund that’s been hobbled by problematic funding, despite being the chief source of revenue for road projects. The federal portion of the gas tax has remained at 18.4 cents per gallon with no increase since 1993, even as gas prices are two or three times as much as they were 25 years ago, and higher mileage standards have changed consumption.

While this overview of a leaked proposal offers a little skeletal structure, the meat is still not on the bones. Only by fashioning statements from speeches and other White House communications can we see that while the total projection for an infrastructure package is between $1 trillion and $1.7 trillion, President Trump has previously indicated that he’d favor about only $200 billion in federal appropriations being used with the remaining finances being supplied from the use of these public-private partnerships and investments.

Another of the items in the White House document would lift restriction on states’ abilities to exact tolls for roads. This might prove too tempting for states in need of revenue. Granted, a user-pays setup sounds fair and even conservative as it relates to funding roads through tolls, but history has proven that once a new tax is introduced, it is rarely ended, even after its proposed funding goal is met.

As Americans tune in to President Trump’s Tuesday evening speech, expect more commentary about the politics swirling about the hatred of this man who’s governing to the right of Ronald Reagan, but his unconventional style has completely wrecked the celebrity media as well as the established incumbency.

Let’s predict some will be committed to an honest discussion on authentic infrastructure needs for bridges, broadband and roads, while some will just throw rocks.

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