President Trump pledged on the campaign trail to create a trillion-dollar infrastructure program once elected, something that at first seemed like it might attract Democratic support.
But the details of his plan looked quite different than what Democrats have been pushing for. Rather than calling for the government itself to directly invest $1 trillion in dilapidated assets, his proposal instead had the government issue tax credits to private firms, which would then raise their own money for the projects and build roads and bridges. Such a plan relies on higher fees and tolls as a source of profit for those firms.
Now the White House is following up on those outlines. In his budget released this week, Trump called for the government to spend $200 billion over a decade to “incentivize” private investment in infrastructure. His administration is also drafting plans to entice states and cities into selling their assets to private firms by paying them a bonus for doing so and then funneling the proceeds of such sales into other infrastructure projects.
Democratic leaders, who initially suggested they might be open to working with the president on improving infrastructure, aren’t flocking to the idea. In a statement released this week, for example, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called the budget a “180-degree turn away” from Trump’s original promises on infrastructure.
Schumer’s office released an analysis finding the president is calling to cut more government funding for infrastructure — $206 billion in reductions — than he’s purporting to spend. That includes $95 billion less for the Highway Trust Fund, the largest source of federal money for transportation infrastructure, as well as getting rid of the Transportation Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program that provides grants for road, rail, transit, and port projects and the Working Capital Fund that provides grants for surface transportation projects, both created by the 2009 stimulus.
Schumer also pointed to Trump’s elimination of the Community Development Block Grant, which helps localities build affordable housing, and other public housing, water cleanup, and community revitalization programs.
“The fuzzy math and sleight of hand can’t hide the fact that the President’s $200 billion plan is more than wiped out by other cuts to key infrastructure programs,” the senator said in his statement.
And on Thursday, the House Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) released a resolution outlining the aspects that any infrastructure plan must include to garner their support. That includes making sure it will “prioritize public investment over corporate giveaways and selling off public goods” and “ensure that direct public investment, without reliance on private investors, provides the overwhelming majority of the funding for infrastructure improvement.”
“Taxpayers should not subsidize billionaires and Wall Street banks that will profit from privatizing roads, bridges, drinking water and sanitation systems, and utilities,” it states, adding, “a genuine infrastructure agenda should not sell or lease roads, water systems, or other essential infrastructure facilities, resulting in new tolls and user fees on working families.”
The list also calls for investment in upgrading water systems, schools, public lands, internet connectivity, Veterans Affairs facilities, and energy grids — none of which come with an easy source of profit — on top of the roads, bridges, and ports that fall more easily under a privatization scheme.
“Donald Trump wants to sell off our roads to foreign governments and give taxpayer dollars to Wall Street billionaires, and he calls that job creation?” Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) said in a statement. “Democrats will take this fight to the people.”
“To fund infrastructure projects, President Trump’s relatively small and incoherent plan would use irresponsible tax gimmicks that benefit Wall Street at the expense of taxpayers,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) said in his own statement. “My colleagues and I know that Americans cannot afford to settle for this scam.”
By contrast, the CPC has released its own infrastructure plan to spend $2 trillion in federal funds over a decade on transportation, water systems, energy and internet upgrades, and building schools and housing. That plan “commits public money for the public good,” Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) said in a statement.
Senate Democrats have already laid down their own marker. In January, a group of eight senators unveiled a $1 trillion infrastructure plan designed entirely with direct public spending on roads and bridges, water and sewer systems, schools, broadband internet, public and tribal lands, and Veterans Affairs hospitals.