When politicians roll out their glossy infrastructure plans, they tend to bite off more than they can chew. President Trump’s new plan just orders everything on the menu, leaves after a few bites, and sticks taxpayers with the bill. Not only does his 50-page plan offer no new ideas or a concrete vision for investing in urgent infrastructural needs, it also shovels more authority to corporations for yet another spending spree on the public dime.
Trump’s agenda starts with an absurdly low sum of $200 billion, and Trump expects to conjure up the remaining trillion with an “incentive” scheme that would dangle about half of the federal funds before private firms for open-ended, deregulated projects. The plan promises to lard up the conventional bond structure to open more public resources to private financing. This corporate handout is also constrained by an overarching asymmetrical state-federal split. Now, with 80 percent of funds to be generated from non-federal sources, according to an analysis by In the Public Interest (ITPI), “Many cities and states will be unable to generate sufficient new revenues to meet infrastructure needs, especially as the new tax law increases the tax burden on many families.”
According to Georgetown University labor historian Joseph McCartin, “The lack of funding commitments from governments will in turn open the door to the increasing privatization of public resources, including even highways, bridges, and the nation’s air traffic control system. Indeed, the plan appears more intent on shoring up the privatization movement than shoring up our crumbling infrastructure.”
With a cost-share heavily skewed toward corporations and local authorities, the deluxe privatization program would scale up a current pilot scheme to promote a nationwide windfall of public-private partnerships. Major pillars of our transport systems and utilities sectors would be drastically deregulated and potentially opened to the profiteering of corporate financiers. This includes removing current limits on corporate airport takeovers, and opening federal assets like the Tennessee Valley Authority to a Wall Street feeding frenzy. Trump would even commercialize interstate rest areas (goodbye picnic tables, hello fast-food courts). While such partnerships are already a mainstay of infrastructure development at the state and federal levels, Trump’s plan would expand corporate involvement in tax-exempt bond financing, by promoting funding for corporate-sponsored infrastructure projects that “a state or local authority leases…to a private business.”
So corporations will celebrate Trump’s high-energy plan for state capture. But for the average Joe watching Trump’s State of the Union Address, the big selling point for the infrastructure plan wasn’t necessarily launching monumental public works, or even marketable projects for private developers: It was jobs, jobs, jobs. And no, we’re not getting that, either. The plan instead says surprisingly little about labor, other than some overtures about “workforce development,” seemingly centered on a sprinkle of federal subsidies on vocational education (perhaps channeling funds into notorious for-profit diploma mills masked as “vocational institutes,” which have undergone massive fraud scandals over the years).