By Thomas Phippen
President Donald Trump will unveil a plan to spend $200 billion on infrastructure over a decade Monday, days after signing one of the largest budget increases in recent memory.
The long-awaited infrastructure plan is supposed to generate $1.5 trillion of total investment in roads, bridges, waterways, electrical grids and other projects, but despite widespread support for improving America’s public works, some in Congress remain skeptical.
“This is the start of a negotiation — bicameral, bipartisan negotiation — to find the best solution for infrastructure in the U.S.,” a White House official told reporters Saturday.
“I think [the budget deal] does hurt the chances for an infrastructure package to get done, unless you use the money we’re just now spending,” House Freedom Caucus chair Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina told Axios. “I think there’s not going to be the appetite to continue to add additional monies without real offsets.”
Half of the $200 billion would be doled out through competitive program, allowing local and state authorities to apply for federal support. Projects that already have dedicated non-federal funding sources would be more likely to receive taxpayer money.
A quarter of the appropriated funds would be invested in rural projects, like broadband, through block grants distributed by the states with little federal involvement.
It’s unclear where the $200 billion is to come from, but the White House noted it would be pulled from “existing government spending,” cut from the federal budget. Half of the money would go toward partnerships with state and local governments and private businesses, and the plan also would prioritize projects that make use of revenue streams like tollways.
“It could be anything,” an administration official said of the non-federal funding sources. “What we’re saying to states is, we would like you to increase your investment in infrastructure.”
The other problem facing infrastructure development that the White House hopes to fix with its plan is “the broken permit system,” that is part of the reason the U.S. has fallen behind many other developed countries in infrastructure.
The federal government has to approve 100 percent of infrastructure projects, however, it only funds 14 percent, one official said, and the amount of hoops localities and companies have to jump through is both costly and time-consuming.
The Trump administration plans to simplify the process, and allow agencies to act more decisively. “For every decision that needs to be made, find the agency that has the best expertise in terms of making that decision, give them the authority to make that decision, and then have other agencies partner with them and execute on that decision that’s been made,” said White House official.
Trump will also release his budget for 2019 Monday, which is largely a wish list, but indicates priorities for the executive branch. After passing legislation that fiscal conservatives widely panned Friday, finding additional money even for something with bipartisan support like infrastructure could be a daunting task.
The federal debt is a “moral problem, not a financial problem,” North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Walker reportedly told members at a meeting Tuesday, before Congress voted on the $400 billion spending plan.
“This is not a partisan issue,” a White House official said. “The time is right. It’s been a lingering problem.”