Donald Trump is an Infrastructure Candidate. Or so the saying went in 2015, when then-candidate Donald Trump promised a $1 trillion $1.5 trillion $2 trillion infrastructure proposal. It was a priority he made good on in 2017 2018* 2019. Correction: a priority he, once again, promised to make good on in 2020, just four months before the election. Not from the White House, mind you, but from a campaign stop in Atlanta. So, count me in as a believer: Donald Trump really cares about infrastructure when he is out on the campaign trail trying to get himself elected.
That doesn’t cut it.
America needs an infrastructure president. Even in a normal year, we need clear leadership to deliver major investments that rebuild our aging infrastructure and ensure transportation services keep pace with demand.
This has been anything but a normal year, and the gravity of the situation could not be more clear. U.S. airlines may lay off tens of thousands of workers in the coming months. Public transportation agencies are hemorrhaging money and threatening to cut service and shed workers. The same goes for state Departments of Transportation and construction projects around the country. Amtrak has already announced a misguided plan to lay off 20 percent of its workforce and cut back current train service. There is still no emergency temporary standard from OSHA — just voluntary guidance issued by federal agencies, with no accountability for bad actors. There is no hazard pay for frontline workers. No sweeping vision for the future of our transportation system.
In fact, seemingly no vision at all from this administration, save the one we were offered in 2018. A $1.5 trillion proposal $200 billion proposal that offered scraps of federal funding to state and local governments if they could pony up the remaining 80 percent of project costs and a spattering of shortsighted gimmicks to skirt project labor and environmental review requirements. The proposal was offset by cuts to existing programs, with public transportation being the biggest target. “This will be a big week for Infrastructure,” President Trump tweeted at the plan’s release. We are still waiting for infrastructure’s big week with bated breath.
Earlier this week, President Trump flew to a UPS facility in Georgia where he touted project streamlining — a goal TTD supports, to be sure, if implemented correctly — but not a solution for our massive funding woes. It is more of the same from a president who has promised big, but whose single infrastructure proposal and annual budget proposals have made across-the-board cuts to investment and services.
Credit must be paid where it is due. Over the summer, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso and ranking member Tom Carper unanimously passed the America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019 out of committee: the first step in the Senate toward reauthorizing our nation’s surface transportation programs. It was a significant step, proposing a spending increase of 27 percent over current levels.
Just last month, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio advanced the INVEST in America Act of 2020, a 5-year $494 billion bill (later combined into the $2 trillion Moving Forward Act and passed by the full House in July). Coupled with appropriations and emergency relief packages that have passed and been signed into law, these are positive steps forward. Congress’s task, of course, would be easier if there were clear leadership from the White House. Leadership that, despite the tweets claiming otherwise, we are still waiting on.
Recently, Vice President Biden brought renewed focus to the conversation by releasing updates to his own infrastructure proposal. It is the second part of his Build Back Better agenda, which builds on last week’s sweeping proposal on domestic manufacturing. The Vice President’s updated proposal calls for a total investment of $2 trillion for a broad range of infrastructure projects over four years and is coupled with significant investments in clean transportation measures that spur American manufacturing: electric cars and transit buses, along with the charging infrastructure that fuels them.
We know that Joe Biden will be more than just an infrastructure candidate. As Vice President, Joe Biden showed clear leadership in using infrastructure investments to save our economy and spur job growth. He made sure that recovery money during the last economic collapse was spent in the right way and with accountability. He can, and he will, do it again.