It’s become a running joke for those who cover the White House: in Trump World, every week is “Infrastructure Week.” It tends to get laughs because Donald Trump and his team have repeatedly suggested some kind of ambitious plan is in the works, but they never follow through with anything substantive.
And so it seemed notable that the president brought up the issue in his State of the Union – and included a new price tag:
“Tonight, I’m calling on Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment that our country so desperately needs. Every federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with state and local governments and, where appropriate, tapping into private sector investment to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit.”
The dollar figure was apparently jarring to Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who told Politico last night that “$1.5 trillion, I think, kind of sucked the oxygen out of the room for a moment, as no one expected a number that big.” He added, “And the obvious thing is, where are we with debt and deficit and how are we going to be able to pull it together?”
The answer is, you won’t be able to pull it together – because Trump’s infrastructure “plan” isn’t real in any meaningful sense.
The HuffPost’s Igor Bobic summarized the issue nicely:
Trump’s latest plan will seek to leverage $200 billion in direct federal spending into an additional $800 billion in infrastructure investment from states, cities, nonprofits and the private sector. The plan puts a greater onus on state and local officials to find additional revenue to fund the projects, which will likely mean allowing more tolls or usage fees to create revenue streams that lure in private investors. The challenge is especially difficult for communities in rural areas – many of which supported Trump in 2016 – where fewer people are available to help spread the cost of new infrastructure.
According to a leaked draft of Trump’s infrastructure proposal, 50 percent of the total outlay in federal dollars – $100 billion – will be used to encourage “state, local and private investment in core infrastructure by providing incentives in the form of grants.” Rural projects will receive another 25 percent of the total share of funding – $50 billion – while the remainder will go to existing loan programs and “transformative projects” like high-speed rail.
Of course, there’s an enormous difference in a federal investment of $200 billion and $1.5 trillion. Just ask the states and local communities that are supposed to make up much of the difference.
What’s more, the White House intends to pay for the federal portion of this infrastructure spending by cutting existing transportation funding. Roll Call reported late last week:
White House infrastructure adviser DJ Gribbin told a gathering of the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Thursday that the Trump administration’s upcoming infrastructure proposal will not include any new revenue to pay for $200 billion of new federal spending.
The White House’s proposal, to be released one to two weeks after the Jan. 30 State of the Union address, would be paid for with money from existing transportation programs, Gribbin said, adding that existing formula funding for major programs would not be touched. He later clarified that certain federal transportation money, including for Amtrak and transit programs, would be cut to pay for the program.
Last month, after a deadly train accident outside Tacoma, Washington, Trump said the incident “shows more than ever why our soon to be submitted infrastructure plan must be approved quickly.” A closer look at the president’s hollow pitch makes clear that this isn’t going to happen.