GOP chairman: Trump’s $1T infrastructure plan won’t all come from DC

GOP chairman: Trump’s $1T infrastructure plan won’t all come from DC
© Greg Nash

A key GOP lawmaker said Wednesday that President Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure package won’t be entirely funded with public money and could include projects that are already in the works but have been stalled by the slow federal permitting process.

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, emphasized that there are “billions and billions" of dollars from the private sector waiting to be unleashed.

“It’s not going to be $1 trillion coming out of D.C.,” Shuster told officials at an American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials conference.

“Let me say something about where some of these other dollars are going to come from: There are billions and billions of dollars out there today, private-sector dollars, that are going to be spent," he said.

Trump, who has long promised to repair U.S. roads, bridges and airports, signaled for the first time in his speech to Congress on Tuesday that he intends to use a mix of public and private financing for his massive rebuilding proposal.

The only clues previously had come from a white paper floated on the campaign trail that relied solely on federal tax credits for private investors.

The high price tag for a massive transportation spending bill could give fiscal conservatives heartburn, though.

Shuster, who has visited the White House twice over the past few weeks and said he brings up infrastructure every chance he gets, pointed to several pipeline projects awaiting approval in making the case for private-sector money being used.

But Rep. Peter DeFazio (Ore.), the top Democrat on the transportation panel, believes that those projects don’t count as new investment because the money was already going to be spent.

DeFazio instead renewed his calls for significant public transportation dollars.

“There needs to be real federal investment,” DeFazio said at the conference. “We need more substantial federal funds.”

Whether Trump’s plan includes direct federal spending or incentives for private firms, Congress still needs to come up with a way to pay for the package.

Shuster said it will likely take “an array” of funding offsets, which he said could include using tax revenue from repatriation or increasing certain user fees.

DeFazio advocated for lifting the federal cap on the passenger facility fee, which airports charge passengers to help pay for facility upgrades, and raising the federal gasoline tax, which hasn’t been increased in over 20 years and has been a non-starter in Congress.

While offsets will be the greatest hurdle, Shuster swatted down the idea of waiting until next year to complete an infrastructure bill.

But Shuster also said further progress on the proposal and other key issues won’t be resolved until the Department of Transportation (DOT) gets more fully staffed.

Politico reported last week that Trump’s Cabinet picks, including Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, have clashed with White House advisers over the hiring process.

“Some of us are getting a little frustrated,” Shuster said. “You need 11 players on the football field. [Chao’s] got about three.”