Trump’s infrastructure plan cuts funding, gives away protections for private profit

Amtrak's Main Street Station in Richmond sits alongside I-95. (© Sean Pavone)

With its announcement today, the White House is putting forward a reckless infrastructure plan that cuts overall federal spending on transportation projects, pulls money away from cleaner transportation such as transit and rail, and removes protections that help prevent ill-conceived, destructive projects.

“This proposal is merely a shell game. The limited federal money made available by the White House is cut from crucial infrastructure programs that benefit our health, our environment, and our communities. Transit and rail projects are incredibly important to the Southeast and this proposal would pull the rug out from under projects such as light rail in North Carolina’s Triangle region and could eliminate all Amtrak service in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee,” said Trip Pollard, Senior Attorney and Leader of our Land and Community Program. “Not only would this syphon money from good projects, but the plan leaves states and local communities holding the bag and also relies on privatizing infrastructure.”

“Americans are not only going to be expected to put their taxpayer dollars toward projects for private profit but they are also going to be increasingly cut out of the process,” said attorney Kym Hunter. “From the Appalachian Mountains to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, our region’s natural beauty and communities have been protected over the years because citizens were able to participate in decisions that affect them. This plan will take away those rights.””

—Attorney Kym Hunter

President Trump has touted the plan as putting $1.5 trillion into infrastructure, but the federal share is only $200 million over ten years. Much of this funding wouldn’t even materialize until later in the decade. Instead, the proposal shifts much of the financial burden to state and local governments, which the White House suggests could pick up the tab by increasing property and sales taxes. The plan also assumes the federal shortfall could be covered by private companies. The White House hopes to entice these companies to build projects by slashing both environmental protections and public input to increase industry profits.

In our region Public-Private Partnership (P3) projects, like those emphasized in this plan, have a very mixed record. Despite Virginia’s reputation as one of the country’s best P3 markets, it has had some notable failures. Instead of attracting substantial new private capital, many projects have required taxpayer-subsidized debt, tolls, and traditional government revenues. With these projects, sizable tolls, efforts to sidestep environmental provisions, and limitations on other improvements have caused public backlash.

The Trump administration is also attempting to gut environmental protections overseen by agencies charged with protecting water and air quality, forests and lands, and vulnerable species. This environmental rollback includes limiting citizen involvement in the review process. At the same time, federal permitting agencies are given an unfunded mandate to speed up permitting times while their budgets are slashed – a recipe for poor decision-making and dangerous oversights.

“Americans are not only going to be expected to put their taxpayer dollars toward projects for private profit but they are also going to be increasingly cut out of the process,” said attorney Kym Hunter. “From the Appalachian Mountains to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, our region’s natural beauty and communities have been protected over the years because citizens were able to participate in decisions that affect them. This plan will take away those rights.”