LEO GERARD: Donald Trump’s Infrastructure Con

The administration’s infrastructure proposal, released this week, is a shift from Donald Trump’s campaign pledges, a shirk of the funding burden, and a stop to government construction projects serving the public good.

Candidate Trump boasted that he would double what his opponent Hillary Clinton said she’d spend on infrastructure. But the scheme released by the Trump administration this week not only fails to do that, it would rob vital and cherished social safety net programs to pay for a pittance of improvements.

It is nothing but a con.

During the campaign, in August 2016, candidate Trump said his infrastructure plan would be bigger and better than his opponent’s. “I would say at least double her numbers, and you’re going to really need a lot more than that,” Trump said in an interview on the Fox Business Network.

Clinton said she would increase federal spending on infrastructure by $275 billion. The Trump administration this week proposed $200 billion in federal spending on the likes of roads, bridges, water systems and airports over the next decade.

That’s $75 billion less than Clinton. And, Clinton said hers would be in addition to current spending. Trump slashes traditional infrastructure spending in his budget. He snatches $178 billion over a decade from existing transportation programs. The Center for American Progress calculated that altogether the Trump budget cuts $281 billion from traditional infrastructure programs over the decade.  

That means the administration actually intends to spend $81 billion less on infrastructure than would otherwise be allocated. That’s not bigger and better. It’s smaller and worse.

Administration apologists contend that Trump’s 200 billion in federal infrastructure dollars will be matched by $1.3 trillion in private, state and local investment, for a grand total of $1.5 trillion. This would shift the burden from the feds to state and local governments and private investors.

The time-honored deal was 80 percent federal dollars matched by 20 percent local. The infrastructure con would flip that, forcing state and local governments to pony up 80 percent of the cost to win 20 percent from the feds.

This comes after Republicans passed a tax break for the rich and corporations that eliminates the deduction citizens previously received for their state and local taxes. That makes it harder for states and cities to raise taxes to pay for infrastructure.

In addition, it’s not like states and cities are swimming in cash. In many, state lawmakers quarrel for months over what to cut. In some, politicians who slashed essential programs like education faced citizen backlash.

This responsibility dodge was explained last month to the U.S. Conference of Mayors by D.J. Gribbin, Trump’s special assistant for infrastructure. He said, “What we really want to do is provide opportunities for state and local governments to receive federal funding when they’re doing what’s politically hard, and increasing investment in infrastructure.”

Of course, federal officials are ducking what’s politically hard by failing to increase investment in infrastructure. Instead, they’re telling mayors and governors to do it.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) says that investment should be $4.59 trillion by 2025. Even if this con job managed to rustle up every cent of the demanded $1.3 trillion matching investment, the total would be $3 trillion less than the amount that the ASCE calculates is necessary to avert serious economic consequences, including $3.9 trillion in losses to GDP and 2.5 million lost jobs.

Not all of the matching money would have to come from cities and states under the infrastructure scam. Some of it could come from private investors who would then own what were once public assets, like airports.

This is a shift from federal investment for the public good to corporate investment for private profit.

For 200 years, economic development, national defense and public health have been the pillars supporting federal investment in infrastructure, not profit.

Under this new plan, the ability of a city or state to provide its own money or garner private investment accounts for 70 percent of the proposed formula for selecting projects. So, it’s not how important the construction would be to public health, like improving the Flint, Mich., water system or how crucial it would be to economic development in struggling states like West Virginia or whether the proposal would assist in transporting heavy military hardware.

No, the new criteria would be whether Wall Street would make sufficient return on investment. This infrastructure program would provide a path to filling corporate coffers with more billions to top off those that the GOP granted businesses and the wealthy in the recently passed Republican tax plan. Without that $1.4 trillion in tax handouts, the federal government could properly pay for infrastructure repairs.

Sadly, this proposal is an abandonment of Trump’s campaign pledge to honor the enduring covenant between the U.S. government and the American people. The covenant began in 1935 with the initiation of Social Security and expanded over the decades with the launch of Medicare and Medicaid.

It was an agreement that if Americans pay into the system their entire working lives, the government will ensure they won’t face destitution in their dotage, and that in the richest country in the world, the most vulnerable citizens will not be rendered homeless, hungry and terminally ill for lack of medical care.

The budget proposal that accompanied the infrastructure plan calls for $1.8 trillion in cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, the SNAP benefit that feeds impoverished pregnant women and infants, and other programs that Americans consider sacred.

Trump himself told the Wall Street Journal in January that he intended to take money from such programs to pay for the $200 billion in infrastructure spending.

Candidate Trump also told workers in Monessen, Pa., in June of 2016, “A Trump administration will also ensure that we start using American steel for American infrastructure . . . It will be American steel that will fortify America’s crumbling bridges . . . It will be American steel that rebuilds our inner cities . . . We are going to put American-produced steel back into the backbone of our country.”

But the administration’s proposal sidesteps that pledge, neglecting to close gaping loopholes in existing made-in-America requirements for federally-financed projects while at the same time specifically opening more yawning exemptions.

That doesn’t Make America Great Again. It Makes China Great Again.

The introduction to the infrastructure proposal says this: “Our nation’s infrastructure is in an unacceptable state of disrepair, which damages our country’s competitiveness and our citizens’ quality of life. For too long, lawmakers have invested in infrastructure inefficiently, ignored critical needs, and allowed it to deteriorate. As a result, the United States has fallen further and further behind other countries. It is time to give Americans the working, modern infrastructure they deserve.”

All of that is true. Unfortunately, the scam that follows that preface utterly fails to give Americans the working, modern infrastructure they deserve.

 

 

Leo W. Gerard is president of the United Steelworkers union. President Barack Obama appointed him to the President’s Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations. Follow him on Twitter @USWBlogger.

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