In his campaign and first year in office, President Donald Trump promised a major infrastructure program to address the nation’s backlog of needed repairs.
But Maine’s U.S. senators said the proposal that has been offered by the White House lacks support on Capitol Hill, and they predict it’s not going anywhere this year, even as infrastructure needs to grow.
In his State of the Union speech earlier this year, President Trump promised a massive, 10-year, $1.5 trillion plan to address the backlog of needed repairs and improvements nationwide.
“Building new roads, bridges, railways and waterways all across our land,” Trump said. “And we will do it with American heart, American hands and American grit.”
But when the details were revealed, Trump had proposed a much more modest package of $20 billion in new federal funds each year for a decade. He wants states and local governments, as well as the private sector, to pick up the rest of the costs.
The goal of addressing the backlog of needed repairs, estimated by The American Society of Civil Engineers at closer to $2 trillion, has broad, bipartisan support. But Trump’s plan does not.
“I think one reason it hasn’t is the president’s plan relies too much on the promise that, somehow, private investment entities such as private equity firms would invest in infrastructure,” said Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who serves on the Appropriations Committee.
Collins said that’s not a realistic proposal.
Independent Sen. Angus King said he believes Congress is ready to act on a bill or package of bills to address needed improvements, but the current plan is not realistic.
“Right now there is really nothing realistic on the table,” King said. “The President’s proposal would have required a huge additional share from the states and from the private sector, and when you are talking about the private sector infrastructure investment, you really are talking about tolls.”
King said states, including Maine, have not had the revenue to keep up with needed repairs and replacements. He said that by shifting more of the costs to the states, the federal government would also force states to increase taxes.
King also said the failure to keep roads and bridges in good repair is already costing taxpayers in the form of car and truck repairs. The American Society of Civil Engineers places the cost of those repairs at $3,400 a year for the average family.
King recalled a meeting with a group of truckers. “The first thing they said was ‘we want a gas tax increase,’ and I said ‘you do?’ And they said,’ yeah, because the bad roads cost us more in damage to our trucks than the additional gas tax would be,” he said.
King said any viable plan should include new revenues, including some fee on electric cars. He points out that the per-gallon federal fuel taxes on gas and diesel were last increased 25 years ago, and automakers have made significant improvements in gas mileage. King also believes any infrastructure plan must include federal investment in access to broadband, which he calls the “commerce interstate of the 21st century.”
Given the scope of the needs, Collins doubts much will happen this year.
“Unfortunately I don’t think that it is going to happen this year, other than piecemeal increases in funding that I am able to put in our transportation appropriations bill,” she said.
Collins said there was additional money for road and bridge repairs and improvements in the Omnibus spending bill passed earlier this year. She said the House and Senate are working on their spending bills for the new budget year that starts Oct. 1, and she said she hopes funding will be increased to start to reduce the backlog of repairs and replacements.
King said there may be a measure passed this year to increase funding for water treatment projects.
This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.
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