Infrastructure Week 2017 proved eventful and newsworthy in Washington with new legislation introduced and details emerging on the Trump administration’s long-awaited plan.
Appearing before a Senate committee, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao indicated that the administration’s proposal would seek $200 billion in federal funding. Secretary Chao also suggested that the package would cover a wide array of infrastructure beyond just roads and bridges.
This week the Trump administration is slated to release a detailed budget proposal for FY 2018. The previous proposal was the “skinny” budget that did not offer full program funding information. Administration officials indicated that, unlike the skinny budget proposal, the forthcoming version would include $200 billion in dedicated infrastructure funding.
Based on testimony and comments, it appears that the administration will aim to offset the new funding with as yet unspecified cuts elsewhere in the budget. Those offsets are likely to prove difficult and controversial given previously proposed budget cuts.
While the new budget will shed light on the amount of funding, how that funding is to be structured will likely remain unclear. Secretary Chao promised a set of “principles” within a few weeks, but a full legislative proposal continues to be slated for sometime this fall.
One issue very much on the minds of Senators at last week’s hearing was the future of TIGER. Secretary Chao was greeted with a bipartisan chorus of complaint about the administration’s plan to eliminate the popular infrastructure grant program. She appeared to walk back the idea of outright elimination and instead suggested that TIGER could be incorporated into the larger infrastructure plan.
Another feature of the Trump administration’s likely approach to infrastructure appears to be incentives for local governments. The subject was discussed in multiple hearings. Testifying on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti supported the idea of federal incentives for local investment. He pointed to the major ballot measure approved last November by voters in Los Angeles County as an example.
Administration officials suggested that any legislative proposal would likely include a mix of tools, ranging from direct grants to loan guarantees and incentives. Among the ideas being floated are incentives for “asset recycling” where local governments would grant leases of existing infrastructure to private companies and use the resulting revenue for investing in new projects. Funding funds or loans would further support such projects under the Trump administration plan.
White House officials are also continuing to work on proposals for streamlining the project review process. The administration has convened a task force of 16 federal agencies to identify rules, regulations, and statutes that could be altered to change the environmental review and permitting process to accelerate projects. Additional proposals in this area are expected soon.
While action and details on infrastructure are slated for later this year, several Members of Congress used Infrastructure Week to advance their own proposals. Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) introduced legislation to create an infrastructure bank and finance authority with $10 billion in federal seed funds.
With an eye to the future, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and HUD looked at the prospective funding needs related to promoting autonomous vehicles. Members of the subcommittee seemed keen to find ways to spur the technology while balancing safety needs during implementation. The effort may lead to additional resources being directed to National Highway Traffic Safety administration.
Water infrastructure also got attention on Capitol Hill with multiple hearings on the issue. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee examined both the broad issue of investing in water infrastructure and the specific idea of promoting “integrated planning” at EPA to give municipalities and states flexibility to solve water problems in affordable ways. In the Senate, the bipartisan duo of Sens. John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) introduced the Clean, Safe and Reliable Water Infrastructure Act (S. 1137).
APA has weighed in on these critical infrastructure discussions with an adopted set of principles for federal legislation. With the strong infrastructure focus on Capitol Hill, now is an opportune moment for advocates to contact congressional offices to highlight the principles and encourage action.
APA will have continuing coverage of the infrastructure proposal when the expanded budget is unveiled this week.
Top image: Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao observes National Bike to Work Week with DOT bicycle commuters on May 19. Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Transportation.
About the Author
Jason Jordan is APA's director of policy.