Donald Trump barreled into the White House with a “terrific” plan for infrastructure, and Washington is abuzz with a seemingly “bipartisan” job-creation initiative. Though the GOP-dominated Congress has for years thwarted similar infrastructure-based stimulus proposals, fiscal conservatives in Washington and market profiteers nationwide are now fully confident in Trump’s vision for shovel-ready business partnerships.
After all, the one competency Trump has demonstrated so far seems to be making money off of building stuff, from casinos and golf courses to his promised Mexican border wall.
But the public project of fixing America’s crumbling bridges and highways is a different animal than Trump’s private real-estate empire of gleaming glass towers, at least for now.
Trump wants private investors to basically direct $1 trillion in infrastructure projects nationwide through a “revenue neutral” financing plan, which banks on financing from private investors, allegedly to control deficit spending (which the GOP generally deems wasteful, while promoting tax breaks as a wiser redistribution of public funds into corporate coffers). To draw some $167 billion to jumpstart the $1 trillion, 10-year infrastructure plan, Washington would grant a giant tax break “equal to 82 percent of the equity amount.” The goal isn’t fixing bridges so much as fixing the corporate tax codes to promote privatization and unregulated construction with virtually no public input. Moreover, whereas effective stimulus plans aim to fill infrastructure gaps that big business has ignored, Mike Konzcal observes in The Washington Post, that the developers Trump is courting would follow the money and “back profitable construction projects. These projects (such as electrical grid modernization or energy pipeline expansion) might already be planned or even underway.”
Dave Dayen calls the program a “privatization fire sale” that ensured that private, not common, interests determine where funding is focused.
Trump is further sweetening the pot by promising drastic deregulation that would “provide maximum flexibility to the states” and “streamline permitting and approvals.”
Activists now fear that Trump’s job plan will yield relatively substandard jobs by mowing down longstanding regulatory protections, including environmental review process (a critical tool activists use to challenge developments that involve public-health threats) and prevailing wage regulations. While private business partnerships on federal construction projects are routine, Trump’s camp is distinctly poised to launder corporate money through federal coffers at workers’ and taxpayers’ expense.