Transportation

Trump adviser predicts ‘tug of war’ with GOP on infrastructure plan

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President Trump’s ambitious plan to invest $1 trillion in the nation’s crumbling infrastructure may run into roadblocks in the Republican-led Congress, according to one of Trump’s advisers.

“He has to come up with a financing plan, and I think there’s going to be a little bit of a tug of war between the conservatives in the Republican party who are concerned about deficits and the president who’s concerned about jobs,” Richard LeFrak, whom Trump tapped to advise him on an infrastructure proposal, said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” Monday.

“I think he will prevail, ultimately, because he wants to put people to work.”

Trump has not sketched out his infrastructure plan in detail yet, but he has voiced support for proposals ranging from $550 billion to $1 trillion on the campaign trail.

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When pressed on the price tag of Trump’s likely plan, LeFrak said: “He’d like it to start with a ‘t’, but I think the number I’ve heard tossed around is about $550 billion.”

Trump has floated a blueprint that would offer $137 billion in federal tax credits to private investors that back transportation projects, which he claims would unlock $1 trillion worth of infrastructure investment over 10 years.

Democrats and rural Republicans are worried that the private financing model would only attract projects that can recoup their own investment costs through a revenue stream like toll ways, thus neglecting some critical infrastructure needs around the country.

Critics also say the proposal would only build new projects, rather than repair existing structures owned by the government.

LeFrak acknowledged that repairing a bridge or road “would be more immediate in terms of its ability to create jobs,” while public-private partnerships may take longer because they have to go through a complex approval process. LeFrak, a billionaire real estate developer, said it’s a “delicate balance” when it comes to infrastructure.

“That’s a delicate balance that has to be weighed,” LeFrak said. “Part of our assignment with the president is to try to advise him as best we can on the merits of these different things.”

Revitalizing the nation’s roads, bridges and other public works is an idea long-championed by President Obama and congressional Democrats, who repeatedly ran into a buzz saw of opposition from Republicans, primarily over the scope of federal spending and how the massive costs would be paid for.

Trump is attempting to ease those concerns by pushing the Republicans’ favored strategy to put private companies in charge of transportation projects instead of the federal government. But tax breaks or other financial incentives for the private sector would still have to be fully paid for, and conservatives may still be reluctant to back anything that looks like “pork barrel” spending or Obama’s economic stimulus package.

“There’s lots of politics involved, and obviously anything related to infrastructure, there’s pork involved,” LeFrak said. “The Congress is the one that appropriates the money for these things. So there’s no simple answer.”

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