White House previews infrastructure week

White House previews infrastructure week

By Ellen Ratner   
Amtrak Co-Ceo Charles "Wick" Moorman (wearing yellow vest) assesses track conditions at New York Penn Station on May 6. The station is undergoing a huge infrastructure project. (Amtrak)

WASHINGTON– The White House held a conference call on President Donald Trump’s upcoming infrastructure plan Saturday, primarily what is needed and how to pay for it.

With both the proposal and the budget set to be released Monday, here are a few highlights of the call.

From a Senior Administration Official:

The administration focused on a Harvard-Harris poll that found that 84 percent of Americans believe that the U.S. needs an investment in infrastructure.

“Infrastructure is obviously a critical component to the functioning of our economy. A lot of America’s success is a result of the quality of the infrastructure we’ve had historically. But the current system is fundamentally broken, and it’s broken in two different ways: We are under-investing in our infrastructure, and we have a permitting process that takes so long that even when funds are adequate, it can take a decade to build critical infrastructure. So the President’s vision is to have a permanent fix for the problems that plague us in terms of under-investing and the length of the permitting process, and not just kick the can down the road and pass things over for a couple of years, which has been the habit in infrastructure policy for the last couple of decades.”

The four major components of the President’s infrastructure package were discussed:

“We want to stimulate $1.5 trillion in new investment and infrastructure. We want to shorten the permitting process into two years. We want to invest in rural infrastructure. And we want to making improvements in training our workforce so Americans are prepared to take advantage of the jobs that will be created as we build out and improve our workforce.”

Some of the call focused on how long the permitting process takes currently: “So virtually 100 percent of major infrastructure in the U.S. requires some form of federal permitting, but we play a much smaller role when it comes to funding in that we only fund about 14 percent of infrastructure costs, and we own even less; we own in the single digits in terms of — if you think of all the infrastructure in the U.S. and what does the federal government own……we’re going to move towards a process that we call “One Agency, One Decision,” where we will create a lead federal agency that will have the authority to establish and move through a process so that that agency, working with the permitting agencies, can reach a collective decision. They would all sign a record of decision. That process would be done in 21 months, and then the permitting would be done within three months after that.”

And, of course, who pays for it and how was addressed:

“So the $1.5 trillion in new investment comes from an incentives package that we’re proposing and from enhancing our loan programs federally. So the way that the $200 billion in new federal funds will be spent is it will be split down into — $100 billion will be spent on incentives. And there, what we will do is we will match dollars that state and local governments are spending on infrastructure. So if they’re creating new revenue streams and they want to build something, we will partner with them to help them to match and fulfill that one final gap in terms of financing infrastructure. “…. they said there is now a movement to have localities pay for improvements and not just the federal government: And then couple that with the fact that the public has said, hey, we prefer to invest at the state and local level. And so we should move — if you’re looking for sustainability, we should move — you know, the federal government continues to play an important role, but we should move and rely more heavily on what state and local governments are doing.”

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