Rebuilding plans capture spotlight

Donald Trump sounds like a Democrat when he says making America great again will require a huge federal investment in the nation’s infrastructure.

All three of the remaining candidates for president, in fact, have called for major investments in the transportation system, spurring optimism among advocates who warn that the nation’s infrastructure is deteriorating at a rapid rate. 

{mosads}“Infrastructure advocates all over the country are heartened by the fact that all three candidates have essentially said it’s a front-burner issue,” said former Gov. Ed Rendell (D-Pa.), who is co-chair of Building America’s Future and is advising Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s infrastructure team. “That has never happened in my recollection, and this is my eighth presidential campaign.”

Others are far skeptical that the campaign rhetoric will lead to action, noting that long-term funding solutions for better roads and bridges have long evaded Washington.

“I have no evidence that this is a much more serious infrastructure-focused campaign than the other ones,” said Norman Anderson, chief executive officer of strategy firm CG/LA Infrastructure. “Who has said, ‘This is going to be my Secretary of Transportation, this is going to be my Secretary of Energy’? There’s all these little tell-tales.”

Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has seized on opportunities to link investments in the country’s infrastructure to creating jobs and revitalizing the economy.

When the real estate mogul was pressed on the Iraq War during a December primary debate, he quickly turned to infrastructure instead.

“If we could’ve spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges and all of the other problems — our airports and all of the other problems we’ve had — we would’ve been a lot better off. I can tell you that right now,” he said. 

At a March press conference in Portland, Maine, Trump said it’s sad that trains in China run up to 300 miles per hour while “we have trains that go chug, chug, chug.”

In his 2015 book, “Crippled America,” the billionaire touted an estimate from the Senate Budget Committee that rebuilding America would create 13 million jobs — a familiar figure circulated by many Democrats. 

Trump has generally called for large federal investments in infrastructure and even acknowledged it would likely cost taxpayer dollars, but he has offered few clues about exactly how much.

Avoiding discussion of the price tag could help Trump sidestep conservative backlash for proposing additional government spending.

But he has still drawn criticism from his Republican opponents, some of whom support cutting the federal gasoline tax in an effort to let states innovate and identify their own transportation needs as opposed to putting the federal government in charge.

“That’s exactly what President Obama said,” Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive and presidential candidate, said in response to Trump’s infrastructure comments during the primary debate.

Clinton, meanwhile, gave a detailed picture of how she would improve bridges, roads, transit systems and other public works in a five-year, $275 billion proposal unveiled last year.

The proposal — one of the most sweeping and costly of her campaign — includes $250 billion in direct spending on new and improved infrastructure and $25 billion on a national infrastructure bank to bring private capital off the sidelines.

It also emphasizes cutting regulatory “red tape” that slows the construction of new projects and reauthorizes a Build America Bonds program to stimulate billions of additional dollars in infrastructure investments. 

“I want to use every tool we can to invest in infrastructure and build a stronger, more prosperous future,” Clinton said in November.

The plan would be fully paid for through business tax reform, according to her campaign website, but does not go into further detail.

Clinton’s proposal appears modest next to the plan backed by her Democratic opponent Bernie Sanders, who calls for $1 trillion in spending over the next five years on infrastructure, including $125 billion on a national infrastructure bank.

Sanders, an Independent senator from Vermont, said he would foot the bill by “closing loopholes that allow profitable corporations to avoid paying taxes by, among other things, shifting their profits to the Cayman Islands and other offshore tax havens.”

But such a proposal would likely require either a significant increase in the deficit or a tax hike — two non-starters for Republicans. 

“We haven’t heard from Mr. Trump or from Bernie Sanders very many specifics, but give them credit, they are unabashed in saying we need to do something about the American infrastructure,” Rendell said.

Rendell added that if Trump were to come out with a more detailed plan that includes dramatic new spending on infrastructure, it could appeal to some Democrats and independents who are frustrated by the country’s congested roads, frequent potholes and deficient bridges. 

“Conservatives might not like it, but I think it wouldn’t hurt Donald Trump one iota,” Rendell said. “He has said a lot of things that conservative Republicans should not like, and they seem to continue to support him.”

Tags Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Infrastructure Week

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