Infrastructure Week 2018: Hope Springs Eternal for Federal Investment

The Council of State Governments Blog |

By Sean Slone | May 31, 2018

At a May 14 event to kick off Infrastructure Week 2018 in Washington, D.C., U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao both reiterated the Trump administration’s hopes for a comprehensive infrastructure package this year and acknowledged the challenge inherent in making it a reality.

“This administration sent out a bill on Feb. 12 of this year to the Congress and we hope that there will be a bipartisan effort to talk about how we can rebuild and repair our infrastructure,” she said. “The difficulty is how do we pay for it.”

The administration proposed an infrastructure package that would seek $200 billion in federal funds that would be used to attract additional funds from states, localities and private investors and generate a total of $1.5 trillion. But the proposal left it up to Congress to figure out where that $200 billion would come from.

The administration has sought to champion a greater role for public-private partnerships in financing infrastructure projects. Chao pointed to Australia and some European countries where such arrangements are much more prevalent.

“I think in this country we’re not quite familiar with tapping the private sector and there’s also an element of distrust—that somehow the private sector is not going to do it right, when actually there are many, many benefits to including the private sector,” she said.

Chao said part of the challenge is that in 26 states there are restrictions on how the private sector can participate in the financing of public infrastructure.

Other speakers during Infrastructure Week said one of the reasons the Trump infrastructure plan hasn’t exactly caught fire among lawmakers this spring is that it seeks to shift much of the funding burden to states. Rep. Alan Lowenthal, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, represents portions of Los Angeles and Orange counties.

“I am proud of my district and the state of California and other states that have said ‘well, if the federal government is walking away, we’re going to be taxing ourselves. We’re going to be doing our own selfhelp,’” he said at a May 16 event hosted by the Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors, or CAGTC. “So if you expect that now we’re going to do more of that and the federal government’s not going to do anything, that’s just pie-in-the-sky. It’s not reality.”

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