Since President Trump unveiled his $1.5 trillion infrastructure proposal Monday, state and city officials — and the organizations representing them — have scrambled to make sense of the plan’s central funding switch.
That’s because the $1.5 trillion is really only $200 million in direct federal spending, the AP reports. The administration proposes using those direct funds to leverage local and state tax dollars and public-private partnerships. It’s still offering an 80-20 funding split to localities (on road projects, for example) — but the 80 and 20 are switched.
The Huffington Post reports:
The administration’s proposal would theoretically spur additional investment in infrastructure by sharply reducing federal cost-sharing for projects to no more than 20 percent of the costs, down from the traditional 80 percent. The massive reduction in federal dollars would place a greater onus on state and local officials to find revenue to fund the construction of new projects ― which in many cases would likely mean allowing more tolls or usage fees to create revenue streams to lure in private investors.
The paper speculates that that arrangement could be particularly hard on rural communities, where sparser populations could have trouble coming up with enough in local taxes or attracting investors (and those small cities may not have an airport to sell, to make up the difference). But according to Wired, the proposal actually throws a hefty bone to rural America — $50 billion in no-strings-attached funding for communities smaller than 50,000.
The real losers are mid-sized cities — particularly mid-sized cities in need of standard repairs, not brand new roads or gleaming trolley cars. And maintenance — if unpopular among legacy-building politicos — is the country’s real need. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, bringing the country’s current infrastructure systems (bridges, water pipes, electric grid) up to good condition by 2025 would cost upwards of $3 trillion.
If you’re in the middle … in a town or a smaller city that hasn’t tapped into post-recession growth, critics say the “Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America” won’t help you much. It’s long on reform, the sort of streamlining that city officials say is needed to cut down the expensive and aggravating gaps between proposal, design, and construction. But it’s short on actual money, allocating just $100 billion in matching funds over 10 years for infrastructure projects for the whole country.
“The infrastructure plan as proposed seems very much focused on leveraging private and local and state dollars,” Brooks Rainwater, who oversees the National League of Cities’ Center for City Solutions, told the magazine. “Oftentimes those dollars by the nature of private investment tend to flow to larger cities.”
But large cities are also sounding the alarm. Transportation experts and officials have said that New York state doesn’t have the resources to pay for a project like the Gateway Program, a rail tunnel between New York City and New Jersey (which has been one of the region’s top infrastructure priorities for several years), according to the AP. And New York’s subways could also be in (deeper) trouble.
“It is impossible to square President Trump’s stated desire to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure with his proposal released today,” the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) wrote in a statement released Monday. “The White House released a ‘1.5 trillion’ plan that is largely smoke and mirrors — funding a minuscule 13 percent of the stated need, with funds taken from some of our country’s most successful infrastructure programs, New Starts and TIGER.”
For now, however, Trump’s proposal is just that — a proposal. In the last week, it’s been booed by players on both sides of the congressional aisle, and many experts have speculated that it probably won’t pass as is.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.