How the Democratic and GOP platforms differ on infrastructure

How the Democratic and GOP platforms differ on infrastructure
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Transportation advocates have been encouraged by both presidential candidates’ apparent enthusiasm for fixing the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges and transit systems.

But the 2016 Democratic and Republican platforms offer two very different visions for the future of infrastructure in the United States.

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While this year’s Democratic plank promises huge spending increases for the country’s transportation system, the GOP document calls for eliminating federal funding for mass transit, bike-share programs, sidewalks and rail-to-rail projects.

“When it comes to investing in transportation infrastructure, the contrast between these two platforms becomes even starker,” said Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO. Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFemale Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations Klobuchar, O'Rourke visit Wisconsin as 2020 race heats up McCabe's shocking claims prove the bloodless coup rolls on MORE “has called for a massive infusion of new investments in our transportation system and infrastructure. [GOP nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMcCabe says he was fired because he 'opened a case against' Trump McCabe: Trump said 'I don't care, I believe Putin' when confronted with US intel on North Korea McCabe: Trump talked to me about his election victory during 'bizarre' job interview MORE] likes to talk about our aging airports and roads, but his own platform kills federal funding for mass transit.”

The Democratic platform approved this week is loaded with dozens of references to transportation, calling for dramatic increases in federal spending on roads, bridges, public transit, airports, and passenger and freight rail lines. 

The platform also vows to ensure that resources are targeted toward the areas of greatest need, including tribal lands.

“The climate emergency and the need to expand the middle class demand that we make the most ambitious investment in American infrastructure since President Eisenhower created the interstate highway system,” the document says.

The plan — which is in lockstep with the proposal laid out by Clinton on her campaign website — would create a national infrastructure bank that provides loans and other financial assistance in order to support investments in infrastructure projects.

It also supports the interest tax exemption on municipal bonds, which Democrats say can stimulate billions of additional dollars in infrastructure investments.

“We will dramatically increase federal infrastructure funding for our cities — making significant new investments in roads and bridges, public transit, drinking and wastewater systems, broadband, schools, and more,” the document says. “We will make new investments in public transportation and build bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure across our urban and suburban areas."

By contrast, the 2016 Republican platform approved last week calls for stripping programs from the Highway Trust Fund — money designated for road construction and other surface transportation projects across the country — that aren’t related to cars and highways.

The document singles out mass transit, calling it “an inherently local affair that serves only a small portion of the population, concentrated in six big cities.”

“We propose to remove from the Highway Trust Fund programs that should not be in the business of the federal government,” the document states. “More than a quarter of the Fund’s spending is diverted from its original purpose.”

The GOP identifies a slew of other areas that are benefiting from highway funding, including bike-share programs, sidewalk improvements, recreational trails, landscaping, historical renovations, ferry boats, the federal lands access program, scenic byways and education initiatives.

“These worthwhile enterprises should be funded through other sources,” the document says.

The GOP platform also calls for privatizing passenger rail service in the Northeast Corridor and ending federal support for high-speed and intercity rail projects across the country.

The platform seems to be somewhat of a contrast to Trump, who has repeatedly vowed to repair the nation’s deteriorating transportation system, even if it requires taxpayer dollars.

Trump has lamented that it’s sad the trains in China run up to 300 miles per hour while “we have trains that go chug, chug, chug.”

When it comes to policies related to gasoline use, the parties once again paint two different pictures.

The Democratic platform pledges to reduce oil consumption through cleaner fuels and electric vehicles, as well as cut methane emissions from all oil and gas production and transportation by at least 40 to 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

The Republican document, meanwhile, remains staunchly opposed to hiking the federal gasoline tax, which finances the Highway Trust Fund. The gas tax hasn’t been increased in over two decades, although a number of states — including red ones — have raised their own fuel taxes.

“With most of the states increasing their own funding for transportation, we oppose a further increase in the federal gas tax,” the plank says.

However, there appears to be at least one area where both parties agree: encouraging more public-private partnerships.

Still, they differ in how to bring private capital off the sidelines.

Democrats are relying on a national infrastructure bank to leverage more private investments, but their platform offers vague details about how it would actually pay for such initiatives. Clinton’s proposal, which would allocate $25 billion for the bank, merely says it would be paid for through business tax reforms.

The GOP platform said it would help encourage more private sector investment in infrastructure by eliminating regulatory hurdles.

The document calls for reforming provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act and repealing the Davis-Bacon law, which Republicans argue limits employment and drives up construction and maintenance costs for the benefit of unions.

“Recognizing that, over time, additional revenue will be needed to expand the carrying capacity of roads and bridges, we will remove legal roadblocks to public-private partnership agreements that can save the taxpayers’ money and bring outside investment to meet a community’s needs,” the plank says.