The White House's “Infrastructure Week” has come to a close and despite a slew of public appearances, details are scarce.
The week kicked off with the president's letter to Congress endorsing the privatization of air traffic control. Then, a trip to Ohio for a campaign-style appearance with plenty of talking points but few details. Finally, the president and vice president gave speeches to governors and local leaders in Washington.
An initial, short summary of the plan laid out the following goals:
- reducing permitting time for projects from 10 years to two years
- giving rural America “grants to rebuild crippled bridges, roads, and waterways”
- handing out loans to “qualified projects of regional and national significance” and grants to local projects
- allowing the private sector to fund a majority of the plan
And at the Department of Transportation Friday, President Trump provided a few more details. He said the administration will create a council “to help project managers navigate the bureaucratic maze.” He added:
“We’re also creating a new office in the council of environmental quality, to root out inefficiency, clarify lines of authority and streamline federal and local procedures, so that communities can modernize their aging infrastructure without fear of outdated federal rules getting in their way.”
Although there are some details, Joseph Kane, a Brookings researcher specializing in infrastructure, said the plan still leaves many questions unanswered.
“[O]ne of the bigger unknowns is how private-sector support will be mobilized,” he said. “Understanding the ways in which private firms and public entities will coordinate on any long-term investments is crucial to the plan’s ultimate reach.”
In January, liberal heavyweights like Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders said they could see infrastructure as an issue they could work on with Trump. But with the new goals provided this month, Democrats are less than thrilled.
Congressional Democrats aiming to appease more voters in risky districts and swing states say the details provided this week don't satisfy their needs. Specifically, Democratic members are now less-than-receptive to the proposal knowing it will allow the private sector to fund 80 to 90 percent of the trillion dollar plan.
These public-private partnerships are relatively new and make up a small amount of infrastructure projects in the United States. Experts say their level of success is hard to measure because they're a recent phenomenon.
Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.) represents a blue-leaning district where Trump won by 15 points. He told the Washington Post:
“I thought a trillion dollars for infrastructure meant a trillion dollars for infrastructure. He’s talking about 90 percent from the private sector and 10 percent from the feds? It’s not going to happen. It’s exactly backwards.”
An alternative infrastructure plan outlined by a coalition of Congressional progressives in late May shifted the priority to public investment.
Swing-state Democrats Mark Pocan (Wisc.) and Jared Polis (Colo.) also denounced Trump's plan in a press call this week. Polis noted:
“Of course public-private partnerships have a role in transportation and infrastructure, but they certainly shouldn't be the driving force. Trump's plan would lift the federal ban that exists on existing interstate highways. ... forcing people to pay their hard-earned money just to be able to travel on our highways in our country.”
Even if more details become available, economists have said a bill likely won't be passed until 2018.