Trump lays out $1T infrastructure vision in budget request

Trump lays out $1T infrastructure vision in budget request
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President Trump laid out his vision for a $1 trillion infrastructure package in his budget request on Tuesday, offering the first real glimpse of the highly anticipated plan.

The White House spending proposal includes a brand new section that would “provide an infrastructure plan to support $1 trillion in private/public infrastructure investment” — one of Trump’s chief campaign promises.

The rebuilding plan, according to the budget, would inject $200 billion into transportation projects over 10 years, with the goal of creating $1 trillion worth of overall investment.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has mentioned a similar number in recent weeks.

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The spending document says the administration would meet its $1 trillion target through a mix of new federal funding, incentives for private sector investment and expedited projects that “would not have happened but for the administration’s involvement.”

The proposal will rely on four key approaches: leveraging private sector investment, ensuring federal dollars are targeted toward transformative projects, shifting more services and underused capital assets to the private sector and giving states and localities more flexibility.

The package would also aim to speed up project delivery by eliminating or reforming regulations that can slow down projects. A fact sheet from the White House called the current environmental review and permitting process “fragmented, inefficient, and unpredictable.”

The administration said it will propose pilot programs to explore new environmental reviews; designate a single entity to guide a project through the approval process; put some permitting into the hands of states and localities; and make sure agencies don’t need to worry about making a permit approval “litigation proof.”

The White House plans to pursue several other proposals within the infrastructure initiative, according to the fact sheet.

That includes expanding the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program to $1 billion every year and expanding program eligibility; reducing tolling restrictions on existing interstate highways; allowing private investors to construct and maintain rest stops; encouraging programs that explore innovative ways to reduce traffic; and lifting the $15 billion cap on Private Activity Bonds.

"Congress should give states access to one more tool in the toolbox by allowing them to toll their Interstate highways specifically to rebuild them," said Patrick D. Jones, executive director and CEO of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA). "This wouldn’t be a mandate; no state would be required to toll their interstates. This would simply give states an option, the flexibility to choose tolling if it makes sense to them."

The White House also wants to create a mandatory revolving fund to help finance federally owned civilian capital assets and establish partnership grants for federal assets.

In addition to the $200 billion for infrastructure, Trump’s budget includes several other transportation-related reforms.

Overall, it would cut the Department of Transportation's discretionary budget by nearly 13 percent, to $16.2 billion.

It proposes shifting air traffic control operations from the federal government to a nonprofit or nongovernmental entity beginning in 2021, which would save $73 billion in discretionary spending but remove $115.6 billion in aviation excise taxes.

The budget also would expand the Department of Veterans Affairs’ authority to lease out vacant assets for commercial or mixed-use purposes and speed up its ability to make facility improvements.

Trump’s massive rebuilding plan is expected to target a wide range of infrastructure projects, including veterans hospitals. The White House budget summary says “future reforms will encourage public-private partnerships” at the VA.

“The White House budget makes a number of strong recommendations on transportation policy,” said Marc Scribner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

“The administration deserves credit for embracing bipartisan reform proposals. It is now up to members of Congress to put aside their partisan differences and support these reforms that many of our peer countries have already adopted and have long been championed by informed members of both major U.S. political parties.”