The American Society of Civil Engineers, giving America’s overall infrastructure a grade of D-plus, says we would need to spend $3.6 trillion by 2020 to bring it up to par.
The problem isn’t that we’re being laughed at. It’s that we’re spending hours in traffic jams, on disrupted flights and in slow-moving trains. And we’re sacrificing billions in lost productivity, avoidable public health problems and increased carbon emissions.
But what Trump is proposing won’t help. It’s nothing but a huge and unnecessary tax giveaway to the rich.
His “$1 trillion infrastructure plan,” unveiled last week, doesn’t amount to $1 trillion of new federal investment in infrastructure. It would commit $200 billion of federal dollars over 10 years, combined with about $800 billion of assorted tax breaks to get developers to build things instead of the federal government doing it.
And it’s hardly a plan. It’s not much more than a page of talking points.
PERSPECTIVE: Whoosh! Here comes the electric car.
Worse, its underlying principle is deeply flawed. It boils down to a giant public subsidy to developers and investors, who would receive tax generous tax credits in return for taking on the job. Which means the rest of us would have to pay higher taxes or get fewer services in order to make up for the taxes the developers and investors would no longer pay.
For example, in one version I’ve seen, for every dollar developers put into a project, they’d actually pay only 18 cents (after tax credits), and taxpayers would contribute the other 82 cents through their tax dollars.
No one should be surprised at this scheme. It’s what Trump knows best. After all, he was a developer who made billions, often off sweeteners like generous tax credits and other subsidies.
The public would also pay a second time. The developers would own the roads and bridges and other pieces of infrastructure they finance. They’d then charge members of the public tolls and fees to use them.
In place of public roads and bridges, we’d have private roads and bridges. Think of America turning into giant, horizontal-like Trump Tower wherever you looked.
COMMENTARY: Alienation and the inability to govern
These tolls and fees won’t come cheap. They’d have to be set high in order to satisfy the profit margins demanded by the developers and the investors who back them.
Worst of all, we’d get the wrong kind of infrastructure. Projects that will be most attractive to developers and investors are those with tolls and fees that bring in the biggest bucks — giant mega-projects like major new throughways and new bridges.
Developers and investors won’t be interested in the thousands of smaller bridges, airports, pipes and water treatment facilities across the country that are most in need of repair.
They’re not likely to respond to the needs of rural communities and smaller cities and towns that are too small to generate the tolls and other user fees that equity developers and investors seek.
They won’t be attracted to the most important first priority for our nation’s infrastructure: better maintenance of what we already have. With improved maintenance, it wouldn’t be necessary to completely rebuild.
But investors and developers want to build anew. They can’t reap big rewards from maintenance.
Nor will they want to put their efforts and money into projects that don’t have proven financial track records, like many clean energy innovations — which, not incidentally, might have enabled us to meet our targets under the Paris climate accords, were we still part of the Paris accords.
We shouldn’t have to pay twice over for the wrong infrastructure.
To really make America great again, we need the correct infrastructure in the right places — infrastructure that’s for the public, not for big developers and investors.
Sorry, Donald. The only way we get this is if big corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes to support it.