Connecting state and local government leaders

A Breakdown of the Leaked Trump Infrastructure Plan

The Francis Case Memorial Bridge carries Interstate 395 over Washington Channel in the nation's capital.

The Francis Case Memorial Bridge carries Interstate 395 over Washington Channel in the nation's capital. Shutterstock

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

The 6-page document, published by Axios and Politico, shows what may be taking shape as the White House looks to formally release its proposal.

WASHINGTON — Details about the White House's infrastructure plan appeared to emerge Monday in a leaked document, but the text does little to answer questions about where Congress might find the money to pay for significant, new public works spending.

Axios and Politico published the six-page document, which outlines “principles” for infrastructure funding and improvements. The White House declined to comment. “We are not going to comment on the contents of a leaked document but look forward to presenting our plan in the near future,” spokesperson Lindsay Walters said by email.

It was not immediately clear when the document was written, who wrote it, or whether it is part of a broader explanation of the White House’s anticipated infrastructure proposal.

The document does not include a dollar amount for how much the administration would be seeking to support the programs it describes. But White House officials have previously suggested the president would like $200 billion in direct federal funding for his plan.

Much of what's in the document aligns with previous statements Trump administration officials have made.

But there is new information as well.

“There’s a lot to bite off here,” said Adie Tomer, an infrastructure expert at the Brookings Institution. He added that it's hard to know from the document in what ways the administration is trying to set the infrastructure agenda, versus saying "this is exactly what we want to see."

Highlights include a grant program dubbed the Infrastructure Incentives Initiative. Half the federal spending for the overall plan the document sketches out would go to this initiative.

Among the eligible applicants for the Infrastructure Incentives grants would be states, localities and private firms with public sector sponsors. Grants could go to a wide range of project types, such as roads, passenger rail, dams, ports, and water and sewer systems.

Fifty percent of the weighted criteria for how grants are awarded would be based on evidence of how an applicant can provide "new, non-federal revenue to create sustainable, long-term funding." Another 20 percent would be based on the extent an applicant will be able to secure and commit non-federal revenue for operations, maintenance and rehabilitation, the document says.

In other words, the criteria would favor applicants that can bring money to the table.

Grant awards would be capped at 20 percent of a project’s total cost.

The document also says a “lead federal agency” would oversee the Infrastructure Incentives grant program, but does not specify the agency that would take on this role.

Tomer questioned what federal department would be equipped to lead a program where grants are awarded to such a wide range of projects, spanning highways, waterworks and other areas. “Who is possibly going to judge the different merits?” he said.

The Commerce Department would lead a separate “transformative projects” grant program proposed in the document, which would account for 10 percent of the overall appropriations described.

Eligible projects would involve “exploratory and ground-breaking ideas,” that are riskier than traditional infrastructure and would otherwise struggle to attract investment.

Here again grants would be available to states and localities—as well as other entities, like public authorities and metropolitan planning organizations.

It’s not uncommon for city officials to say they’d like greater access to federal infrastructure dollars that are not funneled through their state governments. And National League of Cities communications director Tom Martin said by email Monday that it is “promising that the leaked draft gives some recognition that local governments and metropolitan planning organizations need to receive direct funding.”

“We look forward to commenting on the proposal when it’s released in its entirety,” he added.

One-quarter of the federal spending outlined in the document would go to a “rural infrastructure program” that covers transportation, broadband, waterworks, power facilities, flood control and ports. Funds for this program would be issued as block grants to states.

It’s unclear how this rural-focused program, or any of what’s described in the document for that matter, might dovetail with the president’s upcoming budget proposal for fiscal year 2019.

Trump’s 2018 budget plan, released last spring, called for slashing programs that support rural water infrastructure. And for eliminating funds for other infrastructure-related programs, like Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER grants.

Congressional lawmakers, including Republicans, have not backed many of the drastic cuts Trump floated.

The leaked infrastructure document touches on a number of areas beyond grant programs as well.

For instance, it calls for changing federal rules in order to expand the use of private activity bonds.

This includes removing caps on the amount of the bonds that can be issued. The bonds can come into play for infrastructure projects like toll roads and airports. And state and local governments can issue them for 501(c)(3) nonprofits like hospitals and universities.

The document also says states should have flexibility to toll interstates, and that private water treatment utilities should have access to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program, which offers low-cost loans and other financing assistance for wastewater projects.

The White House has indicated that Trump will formally release his infrastructure proposal around the time of his State of the Union address, scheduled for next Tuesday, Jan. 30.

A full copy of the infrastructure document that came to light Monday can be found here.

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Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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