By Frank X. Mullen
The Trump administration has declared rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure a priority, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle initially said an infrastructure bill would be a welcome bipartisan effort, but the road to those goals is blocked by detours and potholes.
The recent tax cut and its accompanying giant deficits have dulled Congress’ appetite for a debt-financed $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan, which includes $250 billion in federal money with the rest in private investment. The administration now admits any movement of a comprehensive infrastructure bill will have to wait until after the midterm elections.
Critics say the federal funding proposed by the administration isn’t enough to make the plan viable and that states won’t be able to cope with the increased burden of financing improvements. The White House says that “additional resources can be secured for infrastructure investment, turning to some combination of user charges, specific taxes or general tax revenues.” That means toll roads and local gas tax or other tax increases.
Reaction to the administration’s proposals is split along party lines.
“(The) White House’s infrastructure proposal shows President Trump is not serious about investing in America,” Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto says in a statement. “It’s crucial that the White House shows a real commitment toward fixing our decaying infrastructure and building for the future. State and local governments cannot be forced to pick up the tab for federal neglect.”
Masto says any changes and investments in federal infrastructure policy must be “sustainable and fair.” When Congress passed the omnibus budget bill in April, allowing federal funding of projects to continue without the deep cuts in funding proposed by Trump, she said that: “the federal government plays a crucial role in fostering this 21st century economy and the appropriations bill restores much needed funding to important transportation and infrastructure programs.”
The budget bill, rather than cutting transportation funds as Trump wished, delivered $10 billion in new money. That included $600 million to develop broadband in remote, underserved rural areas, including in Nevada. It also tripled Department of Transportation’s grants program to $1.5 billion and increased Federal Highway Administration funding by $2.55 billion.
“It is a priority of mine to ensure that agencies like the Federal Highway Administration and important programs like the Department of Transportation’s TIGER grant have the funds they need to help stimulate growth in Nevada, and across the country,” Masto says.
Sen. Dean Heller praises Trump’s plan to redesign infrastructure funding. He is a member of three Senate committees with jurisdiction over infrastructure: Commerce, Science, and Transportation; Finance; and Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committees.
“As a strong advocate of the federal government’s responsibility to advance critical infrastructure projects, like the extension of I-11 that I helped push through the Senate and into law, I welcome the release of the Trump Administration’s roadmap to repair our nation’s aging infrastructure,” Heller says in a statement. “There’s no denying that in Nevada, and across the country, there is a great need to significantly improve our infrastructure, whether it’s highways and bridges, broadband facilities, waterways, or public buildings.”
Heller has advocated for infrastructure projects and rural broadband investment in Nevada. He backed major provisions of the FAST Act, a highway bill aimed at construction and repair of existing roads, bridges, and other important infrastructure. He’s also used his clout to advance key transportation projects in Nevada, including I-580 improvements near Carson City, Project NEON in Las Vegas, and the I-11 connecting Phoenix and Las Vegas. In addition, he was a co-sponsor of the Public Buildings Renewal Act, which enables communities to form public-private partnerships for public infrastructure improvements, such as in schools or public universities, by creating $5 billion in new private activity bonds for public buildings.