Federal Infrastructure Plan Looks Like Nightmare


Some problems have simple solutions.

These solutions are not easy, or cheap, or painless. But the actual solutions are easy.

As the saying goes: “Life is hard. It’s harder when you’re stupid.”

Now, I’m not calling anyone in political leadership, either at the state or national level, stupid. I would never do that until I had ironclad job security, which my boss regularly assures me I do not have.

The Trump administration is supposed to release its more specific infrastructure plan today, although a draft of it was leaked. During his State of the Union address at the end of January, President Donald Trump said it was time for the country to “rebuild our crumbling infrastructure” and called for Congress to pass a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for new infrastructure investment.

Sounds great, right? The federal government putting together at least $1.5 trillion to fix our nation’s roads, bridges and whatnot sounds like a great idea. The nation is flush with money, not in debt at all, so coming up with the cash should be no problem, especially in these bipartisan times.

That was sarcasm, of course.

The specifics of the proposed infrastructure were leaked this past week, and the plan actually calls for $200 billion in federal spending, which is actually more like federal financing. The other at least $1.3 trillion would come from the states, which is a great relief because states are flush with money, not struggling to make budgets at all; look at how easily Arkansas just bing-bang-boomed money for highways recently.

Yes, also sarcasm.

Trump’s call for $1.5 trillion at the State of the Union was met with consternation and disapproval from legislators on both sides of the political aisle. Not a good sign something will be done.

Infrastructure is supposedly a bipartisan issue. I won’t bore you with details I’ve written about before, details that anyone reading this far into this column are probably familiar with, but the nation’s roads, bridges and whatnot are not even in average shape.

Poor roads and poor bridges contribute to traffic congestion, fuel waste and higher maintenance costs. As I mentioned earlier, the solution is not easy, not cheap and not painless.

But it is simple: Raise the tax (or user fee if the T-word makes you feel icky) on fuel purchases.

Trump’s plans call for private investments, but the only way private money is going into building roads or bridges or tunnels is if the private money is getting paid back — by tolls or the like. As Arkansas Trucking Association President Shannon Newton says, tolling is double taxation because anyone paying a toll has already paid fuel and regular ol’ taxes.

Paul Krugman, the Nobel-winning economist who writes for The New York Times, calls “Trumpfrastructure” a scam that — worst case scenario — could “amount to an orgy of crony capitalism, privatizing public assets while generating little new investment.” Krugman, a liberal, also said the $200 billion would, in all likelihood, be money that was designated for public works anyway, and history has shown it is generally cheaper for government to build infrastructure without private help.

Chris Spear, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations, is a big proponent of the Build American Fund, which would attack the infrastructure problem by raising the fuel tax by 5 cents a gallon each year for the next four years.

The tax would then be indexed to adjust to inflation and better fuel efficiency. Spear wrote about the fund in a opinion column in the Washington Examiner — not a lovey-dovey-taxey liberal publication — on Feb. 2.

“A user fee is the most fiscally conservative, efficient and viable solution to rebuilding our infrastructure,” Spear wrote. “Ninety-nine cents of every dollar goes immediately to its intended purpose of road maintenance.”

Spear wrote that a 2017 poll showed 57 percent of Americans were in favor of the 20-cent increase. That percentage jumped to 67 percent when they learned it would mean less government borrowing and lowered debt.