The Trump Administration yesterday unveiled its long-heralded “infrastructure plan,” which Trump himself claimed would be a top priority in his 2016 election night speech.
While some headlines described it as a $1.5 trillion plan, it actually boils down to $200 billion in new spending, supposedly from offsetting savings elsewhere in the budget. And that $200 billion is conditioned on state and local government funding together with private investment. Think toll roads, which create a necessary revenue stream in order for the federal money to flow, as my colleague Dan Farber explained.
But even if the $200 billion didn’t have the privatization strings, it’s a drop in the bucket. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the current infrastructure backlog amounts to $4.59 trillion in needed investments by 2025, per Politico. $200 billion is therefore negligible (although arguably at least a start). But to make matters worse, his proposed federal budget seeks to gut other infrastructure spending programs on badly needed investments like new rail transit and Amtrak.
In addition, the infrastructure plan proposes putting a hard time limit on environmental reviews, ostensibly to weaken their efficacy. I’m definitely in favor of re-examining our environmental review processes, as I’m sure there are efficiencies that could be gained. But knowing the people involved in the Trump Administration and their record on the environment versus business interests, it’s hard not to be skeptical of this proposal.
Ultimately, a robust infrastructure bill without the privatization strings should have been passed during the last recession, when we needed the jobs and the construction and labor costs were much lower. Now we have a tepid proposal which mostly seeks to privatize public assets and weaken environmental laws, during a time when the economy is humming and construction costs are high.
My guess is the bill is either not going to pass Congress anywhere near its current shape, or it simply won’t be effective in spurring much infrastructure investment. Either way, the country has missed an important economic window for this needed investment, and now only has this relatively weak offering to show for it.