The Trump Administration Needs to Prioritize Infrastructure
Since the start of his presidency a little over a year ago, Donald Trump was supposed to start working toward delivering on campaign promises. He has not, thus far, followed through on some of the more nuanced, diplomatic suggestions he made, rather core commitments to his base have been the sacred cow.
Many of these campaign promises land on the far right of the political spectrum. However, infrastructure is the one area where many were hoping Trump would be able to deliver a win for liberals and conservatives alike — after all, the improvement of U.S. infrastructure is in the interest of both parties.
There is a tremendous opportunity to improve the state of our nation’s infrastructure, so the question for 2018 is whether Trump will act on it or invest his energies elsewhere.
A Tangible Need
We call our country the greatest in the world. However, surveying the globe reveals that, compared with many developed nations, we’re not doing so well when it comes to infrastructure. A new report from the American Society of Civil Engineers tracks the way our infrastructure has decayed since the 1980s. The U.S. dropped from fifth-highest in an international ranking of infrastructure quality to tenth in the years between 2002 and 2016.
The need is urgent. You can see it in our roadways, bridges, airports, water systems and power grids. A functioning infrastructure is what allows us to enjoy access to goods and services and a generally higher standard of living.
We hold farmers and ranchers to quality standards and mandate that commercial shipping operations that bring our food to market meet rigorous maintenance schedules. And yet, we neglect our roads and railways to the point of literal collapse or else fail to implement new systems that could make them safer and more efficient.
We have the necessary technology and implementing it would create lasting jobs. So what’s this Republican government waiting for?
Something for Nothing
One trillion dollars is the number that Donald Trump has promised to sink into America’s infrastructure. It sounded impressive when Trump spoke about his plan during the 2018 State of the Union Address. Where the money will come from, however, is unclear.
Trump’s new tax plan expands the national debt rather than reducing it. He proposes that only $200 billion of the money allocated to infrastructure would come from direct federal spending, suggesting that state and local governments would access additional funds by re-organizing their existing plans to free up cash that is currently being poorly allocated.
Trump’s plan includes $20 billion for “exploratory projects” such as the Hyperloop project proposed by Tesla founder Elon Musk. He also wants to shorten the time and effort involved in getting federal permits to help drive development. Of course, that’s a transparently self-serving move for a man who will, in all likelihood, return to the world of real estate development after vacating the oval office.
It should also be noted that the promise of “tax credits” for privately controlled, for-profit infrastructure developers and big builders will inevitably result in more toll roads in America. Paved and passable roads have always been one of the expectations American citizens enjoyed in exchange for paying taxes. That’s something we might not be able to take for granted for much longer if Trump and his corporatists get their way. We’ll pay taxes just like always and then we’ll pay again just to get to our destination.
Starving for Attention
Analysts have cast some doubt on Trump’s ability to carry out the plan, particularly after an early draft was leaked. However, for an administration that has been characterized by a shoot-from-the-hip approach, the presence of any plan at all should feel promising.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration seems preoccupied with other trivial things. He and the GOP have already spent between $2 and $4 million on prototypes of a border wall that solves a non-existent problem.
Meanwhile, we can barely fund the government for two weeks at a time because Congress cannot find an acceptable answer to the immigration policy. Jeff Sessions thinks it’s a good time to re-open the case against legal marijuana and the entire GOP is prepared to go to war with the FBI in the name of plausible deniability.
Let us hope, for all of our sakes, that we can shift focus and accomplish something that will benefit all Americans. A stable power grid, working roads and functional airports would be a positive legacy and a welcome surprise from the least-popular first-year president in the modern history.