The National Disgrace Only Trump Talks About
Part of America First is tackling our crumbling roads, bridges, and other infrastructure
This city’s transit system periodically lights on fire, whole sections are shut down for months at a time, and in just the last 45 days, women have been beaten, raped, and stabbed riding the subway in broad daylight. In addition, this city’s commuters roll over 164 crumbling, deficient bridges each day and the traffic-choked roads are littered with potholes.
But this is not the capital of a Third World banana republic — it’s Washington, D.C., and it represents just a small fraction of the nation’s disgraceful infrastructure collapse that only Donald Trump is talking about fixing.
“For the amount of money Hillary Clinton would like to spend on refugees, we could rebuild every inner city in America.”
Starting with President Obama’s stimulus, years’ worth of funds meant to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure have been siphoned off to the pet projects of politicians and the well-connected. Many of the funds that were actually designated to repair a crumbling nation fell prey to all-too-predictable government waste and inefficiency.
Obama in 2009 demanded a massive spending spree with borrowed money to rebuild an America filled with deficient roads, bridges, and tunnels. Congress approved the $831 billion package. And seven years later, America is filled with roads, bridges, and tunnels that were never fixed, never maintained — and even now aren’t being repaired.
Trump referenced the state of affairs in his blistering attack on Hillary Clinton last week in Manhattan. “For the amount of money Hillary Clinton would like to spend on refugees, we could rebuild every inner city in America,” he said.
Clinton’s call for taking 65,000 Syrian immigrants a year — up from President Obama’s pledge of 10,000 — would certainly be pricey. Using a five-year estimate of $64,370 per refugee, the tally would come to nearly $4.2 billion. Rebuilding America’s infrastructure would cost even more than that, according to many experts, but just that one pet project of Obama and Clinton would give the nation a good start.
A report this year by the American Society of Civil Engineers calculated that the gap between expected funding and the cost of rebuilding and repairing infrastructure — such as roads and bridges, water treatment plants, the electrical grid, airports and seaports — is $1.44 trillion from 2016 through 2025.
And what about Obama’s stimulus? Casey Dinges, senior managing director of the American Society of Civil Engineers, pointed out that only $100 billion to $150 billion at most went to real infrastructure projects.
“Infrastructure was one of the key talking points, but then it went through the [legislative] process,” he said, adding that even the focus of that money was creating jobs with little regard to the most-needed projects. “It’s not like we took $125 billion and said, ‘What is the best way to address infrastructure?'”
Getting Serious About the Problem
This is one area of government where Trump actually has pledged to out-spend Clinton. In his campaign book, “Crippled America,” he suggested a “trillion-dollar rebuilding program.”
“Maybe my greatest strength is the economy, jobs, and building,” Trump said, discussing the plan during a May appearance on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “We do have to rebuild our infrastructure.”
“This is not something that’s front-and-center [for] a lot of far-right conservatives” the show’s host Joe Kernen noted, asking Trump if it was not wise to tack more to the right since he had not at that point fully wrapped up the nomination.
“I don’t tack right or left. I tack what’s right,” Trump responded.
Trump has also maintained his expertise in building would prevent waste normally associated with massive government spending. Trump even associated his proposal with the New Deal.
Next to Trump’s plan, Clinton’s proposal seems downright modest. She has proposed spending less than a third of what Trump has proposed, $275 billion over five years, and much of that would go towards green energy projects — similar to Obama’s funding boost for politically connected solar companies.
[lz_table title=”10-Year Infrastructure Gap” source=”American Society of Civil Engineers”]Sector,Projected Gap
The Clinton campaign maintains that Clinton does have a plan that would provide a stimulative shot for the economy, creating almost 3.6 million jobs over the five-year period.
Michael Sargent, a research associate with The Heritage Foundation, expressed skepticism at Clinton’s rosy job-creation projections, comparing them to Obama’s promises — the ones that his stimulus spending failed to deliver.
“These things never go away,” he said. “The idea never dies, no matter how many times they are tried and fail.”
Sargent said part of the reason for the infrastructure deficit is that National Highway Trust Fund “has been raided for decades” to pay for non-highway projects like beautification efforts and bike paths.
He said a better way forward is to shift responsibility for roads and bridges to the state and local level. When the feds are in charge, Sargent said, boondoggles like California’s costly high-speed rail project become more likely. Federal money also comes with strings attached that can drive up the cost of projects, he said.
“The free federal money ends up being very expensive,” he said.
Jason Pye, a spokesman for FreedomWorks, agreed. He also took issue with Clinton’s emphasis on “green” infrastructure spending, arguing it would lead to more failures like Solyndra, a solar company that famously went bankrupt in 2011 after receiving a $535 million loan guarantee from the Energy Department.
“The problem with most green energy, as we know, is it tends to go only to the politically connected,” he said.
Remove the ‘Middleman’
Pye suggested an approach advocated by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), who sponsored legislation that would cut the federal gas tax from 18.4 cents per gallon to 3.7 cents over five years and transfer almost all responsibility for federal highway and transit programs to the states.
“It would cut out the federal middleman in the Department of Transportation,” Pye said.
Another alternative is for state and local governments to promote public-private partnerships, in which private investors put up large sums of money to build roads or bridges and then reap profits by operating tolls. Rick Geddes, a professor at Cornell University’s Department of Policy Analysis and Management, said the private sector is often willing to provide more money — because of a willingness to take greater risks — than can be raised through tax-exempt municipal bonds.
“What it can do is more efficiently deliver infrastructure that’s already funded,” said Geddes, who served on a commission in the George W. Bush administration that developed transportation recommendations. “I’m almost certain you’re going to see more public-private partnerships.”
Another possibility includes taxing motorists for miles driven rather than at the gas pump, a change that would compensate for declining revenue caused by energy-efficient cars, Geddes said. He said Oregon has experimented with that kind of taxing, using tracking devices on speedometers. Motorists also have the option of paying a monthly fee.
Dinges, of the engineers trade group, said that whether it’s tolls or gas taxes, there is no free lunch when it comes to building and maintaining roads.
“Either way, the public pays,” he said.