Let’s talk about American’s crumbling infrastructure and what needs to be done about it. Even in deeply divided America, I have found that on this point, there is wide agreement. You can’t travel through an airport in America today, or ride on a train, or bump your way down a pothole-pocked road and not realize we haven’t spent the money even on basic maintenance — let alone invested to keep America competitive in the 21st Century.
I have found folks who disagree on almost everything else Trump agree on this: We need to fix this, now. So, how are we doing?
During his campaign, candidate Trump promised to spent $1 trillion to Make America Great to Move Around In Again. I, like many others, cheered this idea. I believed (still do) that Trump could very well be the first president in decades who could pull this off. As a non-Republican Republican, he could get away with spending big on something that is worth busting the deficit over.
This week, you might have missed, was infrastructure week. Yes, Trump’s events around road and bridge building got short shrift by media, which was obsessively covering that other thing. But there’s another reason you haven’t heard much about infrastructure week.
It was weak. Timid. The opposite of bold. You didn’t hear about a race-to-Mars like sprint to make America’s airports the best in the world. Or new high-speed trains. You didn’t even hear about that $1 trillion investment. Nothing bigly at all.
Why not? Because there is no $1 trillion investment. Trump’s budget calls for a $200 billion investment over 10 years, balanced by other infrastructure budget cuts that are roughly the same. Some analysts call it a net reduction infrastructure spending. There’s disagreement on that, but there’s no way to square any of this with a $1 trillion promise to rebuild America.
Worse still, the White House is going instead with the familiar old saw of claiming that private industry will make up the difference.
That’s not investing in America. That’s *selling* America. In many cases, to foreign investors. Drivers who pay to speed across I-90 in Indiana are really paying an Australian firm named IFM Investors. Sure, we could play economics games and debate the merit of privatized roads. (You’d do well to read up on the risks. Here too. ) But magically rounding up to $1 trillion by saying “public-private partnership” is hardly a bold initiative.
It is, however, the traditionally political way to handle a bill you don’t want to pay. Instead of being honest with taxpayers about what things cost, find a complex financing deal that pushes the pain down the road, when it’s some other politician’s problem.
Sure, cleaning up the permitting process will help. But I hope you are tired of the old political trick to pull out a large book and say, “Look at all this red tape!” Getting rid of red tape isn’t going to make $1 trillion magically appear, either.
Worse of all, the White House plans to Make America Great to Move Around in Again by letting states and local government pay. “Trump’s plan … will be designed to encourage them to secure their own funding and financing rather than relying on the federal government,” said Bloomberg.
That’s certainly a point of view. Make the states pay! But that’s not a $1 trillion investment. That’s passing the buck. It’s also a fantasy; states don’t have the money, and local governors certainly don’t have the political capital. No, only a president unbound by traditional political ties could be bold enough. Instead, Trump is doing what he did with the Mexican wall — promising someone else will pay for his big idea to buy himself time in the hopes you’ll forget about what he said.
Some will claim that Trump’s big plans for America are being hampered by opponents who are distracting the country with other things. There’s an element of truth to that. I deeply regret that so much air is being sucked out of the room by Russian hacking when America does many other pressing problems. But I would argue the reverse is true. Trump could re-take the conversation by making bold statements, and getting started on the one thing most Americans agree on right now.
You are a builder, President Trump, start building!
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