Trump’s infrastructure plan lets Washington off the hook

President Donald J. Trump visited Northeast Ohio last week to tout his infrastructure plan at a gathering of his supporters.

The friendly audience in the Richfield Engineers Training Facility in Summit County worked to Trump’s advantage because his speech was long on platitudes but short on specifics. He offered few details with regard to the rebuilding and upgrading of the nation’s roads, bridges, airports, railroads and water works.

Trump’s appearance had the feel of a campaign stop rather than a presidential visit.

Therein lies the problem. There are many questions about the plan that the Republican administration must answer, foremost of which has to do with the cost.

Trump has boasted that the $1.5 trillion price tag is unprecedented and will create at least 400,000 jobs immediately, according to White House estimates.

But here’s the dirty little secret: The federal government will be investing only $200 billion. The rest will have to come from state and local governments and the private sector.

As we asked in an editorial several days ago in anticipation of the president’s visit to Richfield, what if state and local governments are unable to put up the 80 percent match to secure the federal dollars?

We also wondered what incentives Trump is willing to offer corporate America in return for private-sector investment.

And then there’s the highly contentious idea broached by the president of financing the federal government’s share of the cost by raising the gas tax by 25 cents a gallon.

The tax now stands at 18.4 cents.

Trump did not touch on any of those issues in his speech Thursday in Richfield, and instead chose to put a positive spin on his plan.

“We are going to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure,” he said. “There’s no better place to begin this campaign than right here in Ohio, at this state-of-the-art training site, where the awesome skills of the American worker are forged and refined.”

He praised American workers as the “best in the world” and said his plan is designed to invest in them.

Trump also promised to streamline the system for issuing building permits and other government licenses, and pledged that $50 billion would be earmarked for projects in rural communities.

“The first elements of this plan have already been put in place,” Trump told the gathering of his supporters. “We’ve secured more funding for highways, airports, railroads and our nation’s water infrastructure.”

There’s no doubt America’s transportation network must be upgraded, but coming up with the money to pay for the various projects won’t be easy.

The president should understand that state and local governments are only now recovering from the Great Recession of 2008 and that expecting them to carry the heaviest financial burden is a recipe for failure.

As for private investors, let us disabuse ourselves of the notion that altruism will govern their actions. They will want a return on their dollars, which could mean the privatization of the nation’s roads and bridges.

The devil of the plan is in the details.

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