In his January State of the Union address, President Donald Trump said we must build the “safe, fast, reliable, and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve.”
It is impossible to square that vision with the plan and budget he released on Feb. 12, which would actually cut billions in federal transportation funding.
Trump’s infrastructure plan calls for $1.5 trillion in spending, but offers only $200 billion in federal money, just 13 percent of the total. And, because it relies heavily on private funds, the plan prioritizes infrastructure projects that can turn a profit for investors. It’s as if the plan is designed to provide maximum benefit to Wall Street financiers, rather than to repair our country’s vital public infrastructure.
Worse, not all of that $200 billion in federal funding is new money: the Trump administration intends to simply loot existing domestic programs, especially those dealing with public transportation.
Its proposed budget would wind down New Starts, which supports new rail and high-quality bus rapid transit lines, and gut the popular TIGER program, which has funded transit projects ranging from intermodal hubs to safer street redesigns, all with a significant local match. In fact, New Starts and TIGER already have the highest local match of any federal transportation programs.
In recent years, cities across the country have led the way on transportation, raising funds at the ballot box and executing visionary projects. Transit agencies in Denver, Charlotte, Phoenix and Indianapolis - among many others - have leveraged federal grants to generate billions of additional state, local and private funding. A forward-looking federal transportation plan would reward those groundbreaking efforts, instead of kneecapping them.
And Trump’s plan does little to repair the nation’s dismal transportation infrastructure. All across the country, examples abound of bridges closed and trains slowed due to a lack of spending on maintenance, even when there are clear ways to help pay for essential repair needs.
For example, a modest increase in the gas tax could ensure the future of the Highway Trust Fund, which is now set to go bankrupt by 2020. The national gas tax was last raised in 1993 and its real value has fallen by almost 40 percent since then.
At the same time, we could follow up on policies passed in the bipartisan FAST Act in 2015, and provide meaningful new funding to support cities as they work to keep up with rapid population and economic growth.
President Trump could lead a bipartisan effort to repair and improve our country’s vital transportation infrastructure. Instead, he released what his budget director calls a “messaging document” that sends the wrong message. Cities are leading the way on transportation, raising funds and executing visionary projects. It’s time for federal partners to meet cities at the table, and fund the projects that will connect people to jobs and opportunities.
Linda Bailey is executive director of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), an association of 59 cities and nine transit agencies across North America. This column was written for the Progressive Media Project, affiliated with The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.