White House to unveil $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan

The White House on Monday will unveil its long-awaited $1.5 trillion infrastructure package aimed at overhauling U.S. public works.

The plan is structured around four goals: generate $1.5 trillion for an infrastructure proposal, streamline the permitting process down to two years, invest in rural infrastructure projects and advance workforce training.

{mosads}“The current system is fundamentally broken and it’s broken in two different ways,” a senior administration official told reporters in a Saturday phone call. “We are underinvesting in our infrastructure, and we have a permitting process that takes so long that even when funds are adequate, it can take a decade to build critical infrastructure.”

The Trump administration confirmed a $200 billion direct federal investment for the package, which will be included in the White House’s Monday spending blueprint for fiscal 2019.

Half of the federal seed money would go toward an incentive program to match financing from state and local governments investing in rebuilding projects, while a quarter of the appropriations would be used for rural projects in the form of block grants to states so governors may decide where to invest.

Twenty billion would be allotted for “transformative programs” meant for new projects rather than rehabilitation of old infrastructure. Another $20 billion is allocated to expand the use of loans and private activity bonds, a common tool used to fund infrastructure projects. The last $10 billion would go into a “capital financing fund.”

The allotted $200 billion comes from cuts within the impending White House budget. An official did not detail where specific spending reductions in the budget came from, but said the administration made cuts where “infrastructure funds haven’t been spent efficaciously,” providing Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants and transit funds as examples.

The proposal outlined by senior administration officials confirms many previously leaked details about a White House rebuilding initiative that would focus on public-private partnerships and funds from state and local governments.

Democrats have already denounced the anticipated package, calling for increased direct federal investment to adequately address the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges and other public works.

But the White House said its proposal is just the beginning of the negotiations.

“This in no way, shape or form should be considered a take it or leave it proposal,” the official said. “This is the start of a negotiation, bicameral, bipartisan negotiation, to find the best solution for infrastructure in the U.S.”

The plan will fall under the purview of at least six House committees and five Senate committees, according to officials.

“Our plan is our opening in terms of providing ideas to Capitol Hill,” said another senior administration official. “And we look forward to working with the relevant committees through the regular order process, through hearings and through additional feedback to the mark-up process.”

The delivery comes after several delays and amid questions over revenue sources for a proposal, for which Trump has provided varying numbers since his presidential campaign.

The president, during his annual State of the Union address last month, called on lawmakers to craft an infrastructure proposal of “at least” $1.5 trillion, pushing the need for a streamlined permitting process.

To shorten that process, the administration will use a “one agency one decision” method, one of the officials said Saturday. That procedure would place the agency with the relevant “expertise” needed in charge of the permitting.

“A large part of the problem currently is that the federal government’s rules and restrictions get in the way of building a better America,” one of the officials said. “So we want to get out of the way to that regard.”

The proposal would also extend the eligibility for Pell Grants, which supply funds to students who need financing for college, widen the practice of apprenticeships and alter trade licensing requirements.

The plan is bound to face opposition from congressional Democrats, who have long pressed the federal government’s historic role in rebuilding. House Democrats last week released their own infrastructure plan that boasted a $1 trillion direct government spend on an overhaul.

But one point of apparent bipartisanship between the two plans is the emphasis on addressing rural infrastructure needs. Democrats in their proposal push for the expansion of broadband in rural regions, while a sizable portion of the federal appropriations under Trump’s plan will go into a pot dedicated to rural investment.

The administration is also likely to face opposition from environmental groups who argue the altered permitting process will inhibit environmental protections, a notion rejected by an administration official in the Saturday call.

The Natural Resources Defense Council on Sunday called the administration’s plan “a disaster” that fails to provide adequate infrastructure investment.

“Even worse, his plan includes an unacceptable corporate giveaway by truncating environmental reviews,” said Shelley Poticha, head of the group’s urban solutions effort. “That would leave local residents all-but voiceless when it comes to the massive projects that will reshape their communities. We will fight to protect our future and oppose any effort to undercut these bedrock protections.”

Trump is scheduled to host key lawmakers from both parties at the White House on Wednesday to continue the infrastructure discussion, providing the administration a chance to convince lawmakers who have already soured on the proposal.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, on Friday slammed the administration ahead of the package’s unveiling.

“This is not a real infrastructure plan — it’s simply another scam, an attempt by this administration to privatize critical government functions, and create windfalls for their buddies on Wall Street,” DeFazio said in the Democratic weekly address.

“This fake proposal will not address the serious infrastructure needs facing this country, so our potholed roads will get worse, our bridges and transit systems will become more dangerous, and our tolls will become higher. And Wall Street? They’ll throw another party,” he said.

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