Trump’s Infrastructure Alchemy

With appropriate fanfare, President Donald Trump released his long-awaited infrastructure plan. Except it wasn’t much of a plan, per se, it was more of an outline of principles, which frankly were mostly quite agreeable.

Trump’s plan, as reported in the run-up to the official announcement, calls for $200 billion in federal funds to spur at least $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investment with partners at the state, local, tribal and private level.

Other core principles of the plan call for new investments in rural America; decision-making authority returned to state and local governments; the removal of regulatory barriers; streamlined permitting; and an emphasis on the American worker.

Conspicuously missing is a specific plan to fund the $200 billion and there is long list of questions attached to how that $1.5 trillion will materialize. I am reminded of the alchemists of days long ago, who believed they could turn base metals into gold. We cannot turn strong words and huge ideas into new roads and bridges.

I wrote last month of the need to raise the gas tax and fix the Highway Trust Fund. That would be a major first step, but unfortunately no such suggestion was forthcoming in the plan.

There is also the significant hurdle of our congressional representatives, who may be wary of another big spending measure on the heels of a tax cut and the new budget agreement to fund the government.

Industry association leaders were measured in their response, with the common theme that the Trump plan is only the beginning.

  • National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association President Michael Johnson called the plan, “a very welcome and necessary way to start a very overdue conversation on infrastructure investment.”
  • Associated Equipment Distributors President Brian P. McGuire echoed Johnson, saying, “The administration’s proposal is just the start of the conversation. It’s now Congress’ responsibility to pass legislation that incorporates many of the principles.”
  • Association of Equipment Manufacturers President Dennis Slater stated, “It should serve as an important starting point for serious debate in Congress.”

In the 1960s and 1970s, Firestone had a very popular commercial on TV that featured the tagline, “Where the rubber meets the road.” When it comes to infrastructure spending, adequate funding is indeed where the rubber meets the road.

I like just about everything I read in the new Trump plan. But as Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character said in the movie “Jerry McGuire”: “Show me the money.”

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