Donald Trump today unveiled his amazing fabulous infrastructure plan, a microscopic $200 billion federal investment over 10 years. It’s a piddling nothing of federal spending, and even that $200 billion will be paid for by cutting other infrastructure commitments. So when Donald Trump smiles and talks about his “1.5 trillion” in investments, keep in mind he’s lying — the rest of the money in that amount would supposedly be provided by private industry and state and local governments, but even if it materialized, the plan is unlikely to do a hell of a lot for America’s falling-apart roads, bridges, tunnels, sewers, airports, electrical grid, and other physical infrastructure, because the real motive here is — you may sense a theme with this administration — to funnel money to the real estate and construction industries, regardless of the actual public infrastructure needs.
The idea here is that if the feds stake 20 percent of any given project, then state/local government will work with private equity companies and contractors to complete the project. As the Washington Post points out, that’s a really inefficient way to get infrastructure built:
In normal circumstances, the government decides it needs a new bridge, so it hires Joe’s Construction to build it. But the bridge still belongs to the government; we just have to pay maintenance costs. In the kind of “partnership” the Trump administration wants more of, the government decides it needs a new bridge, so it gives PriveCo Equity Partners a gigantic tax incentive to build the bridge, which the company now owns — and which will charge tolls on in perpetuity. Taxpayers could shell out nearly as much in tax incentives to the private company as we would have spent to just build the bridge, and then on top of that you’ll have to pay tolls to cross it — forever. As long as the bridge stands, people are paying extra so PriveCo Equity Partners can make a profit.
Oh, hey, does it surprise anyone that this plan was “developed with the help of an advisory board headed by two New York real estate magnates who just happen to be personal friends of the president”?
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But wait! It gets worse! Not only is this an inefficient, grifty way to finance infrastructure (so you can see why Trump likes it), it’s also next to useless for any infrastructure project that won’t turn a profit. Toll roads or bridges are a pain in the ass (and remember, a waste of public money) but are at least economically feasible in large cities with lots of traffic. Not so the infrastructure in rural areas, which is falling apart but not all that attractive to investors, who have no financial interest in keeping open a bridge that’s absolutely vital to, say, several farming communities. Nobody’s going to get rich fixing the water system in Flint, Michigan (and god help the people there if anyone tried). There are just some things that government is generally more efficient at doing than private capital, and building/repairing schools and firehouses and water and sewer systems is one of them.
Did we say it gets worse? Why, yes, it does indeed get worse: Beyond the inefficiencies and costs and the ignoring vital projects that won’t be funded, the Trump plan also seeks to “streamline” the process of getting projects underway by “cutting red tape,” because as we all know, regulations exist solely to get in the way of private capital. What kind of needless red tape does Trump’s infrastructure plan eliminate? Just some stupid environmental protections that no polluters like at all, according to the Center for American Progress:
[The] Trump administration’s plan would require fundamental changes to no fewer than 10 bedrock environmental laws that protect the nation’s clean air, clean water, wildlife, and national parks. The plan would hollow out the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the law that requires federal project sponsors to consult with stakeholders who would be affected by new projects and identify ways to reduce their impact on the environment, public health, and cultural resources. The Endangered Species Act is also in the crosshairs, as several provisions would prioritize new development over the protection of wildlife that is on the brink of extinction. The Trump administration proposes significant changes to the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act to make it easier for corporations to break ground and avoid inconvenient air and water quality protections
That’s not just a Trump thing, of course — Republicans have had it in for meddlesome endangered species ever since a teensy endangered fish that doesn’t make a profit for anyone got in the way of a dam back in the ’70s. Unpopular animals will finally get their comeuppance, and will that ever own the libs!
Still worser and worser: Since Republicans have already blown up the deficit with the Great Big Tax Cuts for Rich Fuckwads and the budget agreement, even that paltry $200 billion in federal funding will be paid for by cutting other infrastructure programs, a little here, a little there. They’re paying for infrastructure by cutting infrastructure, as one incredulous policy wonk at the Roosevelt Institute notes:
So, how much of Our Nation’s Crumbling Infrastructure (“crumbling” is the mandatory adjective for these stories) will the Trump plan fix? Remember, the $200 billion in federal money is all there is, and it can only make up 20 percent of any project. Grant applications will be limited to places that can pony up state/local funds, including the increased costs of subsidizing the profits of their private investment “partners.” Even if, by some miracle, that created $1.5 trillion in investment, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated last year that the USA needs $4.6 trillion to upgrade/fix all its many, many infrastructure problems. And while a CNN investigation suggests that may be an inflated estimate (civil engineers have a stake in getting as much infrastructure spending as possible), the Trump plan is really just a drop in the bucket to address what’s needed.
That’s one leaky bucket, and it won’t help a hell of a lot if most of the money ends up going to Gold Bucket Equity Management LLC.