Lawmaker says Trump infrastructure plan not all gov't money

AP News
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Posted: Mar 01, 2017 4:46 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump's $1 trillion infrastructure plan will likely include private projects like pipelines that don't involve federal money but have been hindered by a lack of government permits or regulations, according to a key Republican lawmaker.

Trump has repeatedly pledged, including in his speech Tuesday to Congress, to seek $1 trillion in public and private funds to improve America's infrastructure and create jobs. But he hasn't provided specifics about where the money would come from or when it would be spent. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican leaders have indicated they don't want to add substantially to the federal deficit.

"It's not going to be $1 trillion coming out of Washington, D.C.," said Rep. Bill Shuster, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The Pennsylvania lawmaker said he was part of small groups of people that met twice with Trump at the White House recently on the matter

"Let me say something about where some of these other dollars are going to come from: There are billions and billions of dollars out there today, private sector dollars, that are going to be spent," Shuster told a conference of state transportation officials Wednesday. He cited two pipeline projects in Pennsylvania and one in Florida as examples.

The Army Corps of Engineers and other government agencies "are holding up these projects," Shuster said. "If the corps signs off, and we get a couple of other people in agreement, we're talking about $4 billion just in Pennsylvania and a couple of other states that can be done." He identified the Pennsylvania projects as the Constitution and the Atlantic Sunrise pipelines. He didn't identify the Florida project, but said it would cost about $1.5 billion.

Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the senior Democrat on the transportation committee, said private investment in infrastructure projects like pipelines and freight railroads shouldn't count toward Trump's $1 trillion commitment because those industries already plan to spend that money.

The infrastructure plan should be "new, needed investments in the public infrastructure." he said.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has said the administration wants to "unleash the potential" of private sector investors in highway and other projects, but investors are typically interested only in projects that have a revenue stream like tolls to make them profitable. There are relatively few large transportation projects like that in the U.S., according to lawmakers and transportation industry officials.

"The solution is not just to throw money at problems, and financing does not have to fall solely to the government, Chao said in a statement after Trump's speech.

Federal, state and local governments spent more than $400 billion on transportation, drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Of that, roughly $100 billion came from the federal government.

Other possibilities for raising the money — increasing the federal gas tax, imposing a tax on miles driven and charging tolls on federal interstate highways — are all likely to generate opposition.

DeFazio suggested several ways to find money for infrastructure, including automatically raising gasoline and diesel tax based on inflation increases in construction costs. That would increase fuel taxes less than 2 cents a gallon, and is unlikely to cause members of Congress to be voted out of office by angry constituents, he said.

Other possibilities include making all of the money raised in federal taxes and fees on the shipping industry and its customers available for port and other maritime improvements, DeFazio said. Congress has refused to spend all the money the government collects from the industry in order to use the remainder to make the annual federal deficit appear lower.

DeFazio is also a sponsor of a bipartisan bill introduced Wednesday that would lift the limit on what airports can charge airline passengers who use their facilities. The "passenger facility charge" is currently $4.50 and is paid only to airports the passenger uses. Airports want to raise the charge to help finance improvements. Trump has frequently complained that some U.S. airports are "Third World."

However, Trump told a recent White House meeting of airline and airport officials that he doesn't like to increase fees.

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This story has been corrected to show that DeFazio is from Oregon, not California.