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Look for ‘fairy dust’ in Trump’s infrastructure plan

Look for ‘fairy dust’ in Trump’s infrastructure plan
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump admin to announce coronavirus vaccine will be covered under Medicare, Medicaid: report Election officials say they're getting suspicious emails that may be part of malicious attack on voting: report McConnell tees up Trump judicial pick following Supreme Court vote MORE’s State of the Union address will undoubtedly be full of bragging and superlatives, which most folks have learned to brush off with a smile. But his vision for infrastructure, expected to be previewed during the speech, should be heeded by Congress, governors, and mayors with extreme caution. 

When looked at beyond Trump’s rhetoric, this supposed “$1 trillion dollar plan” is just a bait and switch to lure votes, while delivering serious profits to his political cronies. It’s a scam that would roll back the federal government’s historic role building up this country’s infrastructure, and instead hit working- and middle-class families with higher taxes, tolls, and fewer jobs.

According to expert analysis, the president’s approach to infrastructure would actually cut $1.69 for every $1 of proposed expenditure. That’s right — Trump’s approach would lead to a net cut in jobs, perhaps in the hundreds of thousands.

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Of course, that won’t stop Trump from using fuzzy numbers and quack math. After boxing himself in with a campaign promise to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure, the Trump proposal only dedicates $200 billion in federal funding. But even that $200 billion is phony money — late last week, Trump infrastructure advisor DJ Gribbin told a group of mayors that there will be “no new revenue,” but that the $200 billion pot will come from cuts to Amtrak, TIGER and other existing infrastructure programs. No wonder Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has called the proposal “fairy dust.”

 

Meanwhile, the Trump budget would let one of the most important infrastructure funding vehicles, the Highway Trust Fund, wither and die. That would mean a $138 billion cut — hence the net decrease in federal spending.

How would any infrastructure ever get built or repaired under this plan? Only if states and cities will have to go it alone.

Currently, the average highway project gets 80 percent federal funding and 20 percent state or local. Under Trump’s plan, that formula would get flipped on its head — 80 percent or more from states and localities, and a maximum of 20 percnet from the federal government. It’s classic Trump: he’ll take credit for building it, but you pay.

For many states and cities, there’s only one way to raise that kind of money — selling off public assets to private investors looking to make a profit. Trump’s political cronies may love that, but it comes at a huge price. 

Investors typically aren’t interested in a project that doesn’t reap profits and for that reason they’re only interested in big projects in affluent areas. Because of this, equity financing is typically three to five times more expensive than municipal bond debt and federal loans.

But, the real need is smaller repair and rehabilitation projects, many in rural communities, which private investors won’t see as lucrative and leave behind. And the high costs of the projects they do choose to finance will, in turn, result in exorbitant user fees to pay off their cost — meaning higher tolls, parking rates, and water fees.

It also allows private corporations to sidestep public health and environmental protections — leading to dirtier air and water, which is not only dangerous, but deeply unpopular. 

The Trump plan will propose additional and more detrimental changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other bedrock environmental laws, making it easier for project developers to secure permits despite potential impacts on air, water and wildlife.

Americans don’t buy the false choice that we need to sacrifice our clean air, clean water, and wildlife to fix our bridges and roads. Polling by the Center for American Progress shows that 94 percent of American voters, including 92 percent of Trump voters, reject the idea that we have to make a choice between the two.

But the Trump proposal all but makes the choice for us, cutting environmental corners to not only risk key health and public safety safeguards, but leading to higher costs later on. Deregulation tactics on risk-laden infrastructure projects that aren’t properly vetted — including pipelines, drilling projects, and new mines — have proven time and again to cripple communities that are then left to clean up an otherwise preventable mess.

Look no further than 2017, a year in which natural disasters caused $306 billion in total damage. We can’t make those same mistakes, and take those same shortcuts that threaten the safety of our communities when that infrastructure is rebuilt. Instead, we must rebuild with resilient projects that employ the best standards for protecting and strengthening our environment. 

This is the same story we’ve seen from Trump time and time again. He promised a compassionate health care bill and a tax plan that would work for the middle class. Instead, the biggest corporations, private jet owners, and K street lobbyists got their wish lists fulfilled, while working class families were handed the bill. Over and over again, he employs populist rhetoric to paper over plans that are simply giveaways to the rich.

Real improvements to America’s infrastructure can be made but the federal government must pull its weight, and Congress must not blindly trust Trump’s claims of a grandiose infrastructure plan as anything but a snake-oil fallacy. The only acceptable solution is robust, comprehensive investments in equitable and sustainable projects that leave no community behind.

We won’t be fooled by yet another Trump scam, we won’t allow the cost of Trump’s plan to be passed off from Wall Street, and we won’t settle for anything less than a fully funded infrastructure plan that builds a better America for the 21st century.

Tate Hausman is the co-director of the Millions of Jobs campaign, a national coalition of labor unions, environmental organizations, racial justice groups and grassroots powerhouses who are fighting for robust, sustainable investment in America's infrastructure.