The infrastructure plan that President Donald Trump unveiled this week is big on hype and short on cash. The president said his $1 trillion, 10-year plan to rebuild the nation's roads, bridges and other public works would make America the envy of the world. But this proposal wouldn't even meet the backlog in current needs. The vast majority of new spending would come from private investors, who would recoup their money by charging tolls and fees on the transportation backbone of everyday life. This is a plan for Wall Street, not Main Street, and Congress should reject it.
Trump unveiled his plan in a series of public appearances, offering more flash than details and exposing a contrast between this proposal and his budget. Of the $1 trillion, the government would commit only $200 billion, using tax credits and other tools to encourage an additional $800 billion from the private sector. He set no priorities or explained where, why and how the private companies would invest, offering instead a rosy picture of the American worker and a business climate free of red tape or oversight by the federal government.
In truth, the federal contribution is way too small to attract such a huge commitment by private industry. And if the infrastructure plan is being financed with money from the private markets, the projects will skew toward money-makers, such as tolled interstate express lanes, not on rural roads or outdated water and sewage systems that pockmark the country. This is a blueprint for skimming profits, not rebuilding the country. And the administration is focused on roads and bridges at the expense of investing in more modern infrastructure, such as universal WiFi, which could transform the economic landscape in much the way rural electrification did in the last century.
This is not what Tampa Bay and Florida need from Washington. Without a substantial federal investment, picture nothing but toll roads and tolls on bridges in an area choking on traffic. Forget about a massive expansion of public bus service, or the creation of a regional light rail line. Floridians already get far less than they should in transportation money from Washington in return for their federal tax dollars, and the president's proposal offers no hope of any fairer treatment.
Trump raised more questions about his intentions Friday by using a speech on infrastructure to tout his administration's plan to lift rules and regulations on contractors and to hand more of these projects over to state and local authorities. This is the same White House that proposed in the coming year to halt funding for many urban development and transit projects that states and local governments have used to improve their infrastructure. In its latest assessment, issued this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation's public facilities a D+ and said that Washington and the states needed to spend an additional $206 billion per year to maintain U.S. competitiveness.
Trump's plan is not serious, and Congress needs to ensure that the federal government plays a pivotal role in rebuilding our infrastructure in Florida and the nation. The private sector can be a partner. But the basics that communities depend on — transit, water, sewer and other public works — are public assets and public obligations.