Congress urged to use public, not private, dollars to invest in infrastructure
- If a national infrastructure package is to be successful in Congress next year, elected officials must invest using public dollars and not rely on the private sector, a leading Democrat on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure said Wednesday.
- Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR, currently the committee’s Ranking Member, expressed optimism that President Donald Trump will be on board with new legislation to rebuild and improve America’s infrastructure, but he will need to be bolder and fund it with federal and state money.
- "I think the President really wants to do an infrastructure package, and I need his help, because we're going to have to do some revenue and we're going to need him to show people it's OK to do a little bit of revenue," DeFazio said during The Atlantic’s Summit on Infrastructure and Transportation.
Trump has discussed rebuilding America’s infrastructure for years, from the campaign trail through his time as president. His administration released a $200 billion plan early this year that relied on public-private partnerships (P3s) and state governments to pick up more of the tab, but that plan went nowhere in Congress, to the frustration of city leaders. For his part, DeFazio derided the plan as "ridiculous," but said there is optimism that something better can be done in 2019 when the new Congress is gaveled into session in January.
Instead, DeFazio said P3s are merely one "tool in the toolbox," and said while up to 12% of the country’s infrastructure needs can be meet by using them, the projects that remain require real investment by federal, state and local governments.
He also repeated calls for a raise in the national gas tax, something that hasn't been done on the federal level since 1993, but has been done by more than 30 states with "no detrimental political consequences." Various ballot measures this year looked to raise money for infrastructure and transportation, with surveys indicating Americans are willing to pay more if it means relieving congestion.
"People get it. They're tired of being stuck in congestion, they're tired of blowing out tires in potholes ... People want solutions," DeFazio said. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) have made similar calls for a gas tax raise.
It remains to be seen if anything will get done in 2019, given that 2020 is a presidential election year, when the gears of government typically grind to a halt. Though DeFazio said aspects like resiliency and environmental sustainability are top of mind for legislators. Given the dire warnings of the impacts of climate change, he said that making infrastructure greener will also be a priority.
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