Trump's infrastructure plan won't contain list of projects

Trump's infrastructure plan won't contain list of projects
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President Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure package won’t contain a list of specific projects, according to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

Speculation has been growing about which projects would or wouldn’t make the final cut in the yet-to-be-unveiled rebuilding plan. A list of 50 transportation projects was circulated in Washington earlier this year that allegedly identified some of the top projects that were under consideration.

But Chao emphasized that Trump’s proposal will still contain special funding mechanisms to help rural and other infrastructure needs directly access cash, especially in areas where private financing isn’t a viable option.

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“We will not specify any list of projects or anything like that. … There will not be a specific list of projects,” Chao told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday. “The infrastructure proposal is being put together with a much greater view of principles.”

Chao testified on Capitol Hill for the first time since her confirmation hearing to provide updates on Trump’s highly anticipated infrastructure plan.

She told senators that the administration will unveil a broad sketch of the proposal in late May, which will highlight the administration’s top “principles” when it comes to rebuilding U.S. roads, bridges and other public works.

“The president, obviously, is very impatient,” Chao said.

A more detailed legislative package will likely be released in the “third quarter,” she added, which would put it up against must-pass aviation, debt ceiling and spending bills.

Chao reiterated that “everything is on the table” when it comes to funding offsets for the plan, but did not offer further details about which options are being seriously considered by the White House.

Lawmakers will need to come up with $200 billion in offsets for the bill, which will be used to leverage about $1 trillion worth of overall investment through public-private partnerships, according to the administration.

The proposal is also expected to streamline the permit-approval process and contain some regulatory, administrative and policy reforms.

Speaking at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event on Monday, Chao said that some direct funding will be included for projects that boost gross domestic product or “lift the American spirit.”

She declined on Wednesday to further elaborate on which projects would meet that criteria but assured lawmakers that the administration is committed to ensuring rural projects are addressed in the package. Chao also signaled that projects like the Gateway Program in the Northeast Corridor remain an "absolute priority."

“Not every infrastructure project, however, is a candidate for private investment,” Chao said. “The administration recognizes differences between rural and urban infrastructure needs.”

Democrats and rural Republicans have long been worried that the private financing model preferred by Trump would neglect infrastructure projects that don’t have a revenue stream to recoup their investment costs.

Those lawmakers want to see some direct public funding included in the infrastructure effort, which the White House has agreed to do.

“Public-private partnerships can be effective in urban areas, but do not work for rural states like Wyoming, and other small and rural states represented on this committee," said EPW Chairman John BarrassoJohn BarrassoOvernight Finance: Dems introduce minimum wage bill | Sanders clashes with Trump budget chief | Border tax proposal at death's door Overnight Energy: Trump energy nominees face Congress | OPEC to extend production cuts Top GOP senators tell Trump to ditch Paris climate deal MORE (R-Wyo.).

But specifically carving out federal money for projects could spark accusations of “pork barrel spending” or “administrative earmarks,” especially from fiscal conservatives.

Former President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaObama visits Prince Harry at Kensington Palace White House to share info on ethics waivers White House considering vetting Trump’s tweets: report MORE’s 2009 economic stimulus bill established wide-ranging grants, called the Transportation Income Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, to help disperse money to diverse infrastructure projects throughout the country.

Trump proposed eliminating those grants in his budget, however, drawing the ire of Democrats and rural Republicans.

Chao suggested on Wednesday that any money that is cut from TIGER grants could be funneled back into Trump’s infrastructure package in some new form.

“I know how popular TIGER grants are with members of Congress. … This particular issue about TIGER grants is something we are discussing,” Chao said. “The thought was that there be a more holistic approach to infrastructure, and perhaps these TIGER grants would be recast in some way in the future.”