There are three compelling questions we want President Donald J. Trump to answer when he shares his vision for improving this nation’s infrastructure during a visit Thursday to Summit County:
What if state and local governments are unable to come up with the 80 percent match for the federal funding for road and bridge projects?
What is the president willing to give private companies to lure them into investing billions of dollars in his $1.5 trillion initiative?
What makes Trump think Congress will go along with his idea for financing the federal government’s portion of the infrastructure plan by raising the gas tax by 25 cents a gallon? The tax now stands at 18.4 cents.
Those questions go the heart of the unenthusiastic response Trump’s infrastructure initiative has received on Capitol Hill and around the country.
The president is obviously aware that he faces an uphill political battle, which is why he’s visiting Richfield this week. He hopes to drum up public support for his plan to close what he calls the “infrastructure deficit.”
It’s fair to point out that the nation’s deteriorating roads, bridges, water systems, airports and railroads were a major plank in Republican Trump’s presidential campaign platform in 2016.
He regularly talked about launching a $1 trillion-plus rebuilding and upgrading program and went so far as to portray the issue in terms of national security.
While we disagreed with then candidate Trump’s stand on a whole range of issues, we did applaud the billionaire real-estate developer from New York City for turning the spotlight on the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.
We were especially pleased when he talked about the federal government taking the lead and committing the dollars needed to cover the exorbitant cost.
But Trump then made no mention of the fact that the federal government would chip in only $200 billion of the plan’s total cost of $1.5 trillion.
Nor did he say that state and local governments would be required to bear a much larger financial burden than the federal government.
He also did not make it known that private-sector investment would be sought.
Therefore, we, along with most Americans, were surprised when Trump shared some of the details of his plan in his State of the Union address in January.
PRIVATE PARTNERS SOUGHT
He said every federal dollar should be leveraged with state and local participation and that the federal government should seek partnerships with the private sector.
The reaction to both proposals was not what the president expected. State and local officials, including some in the Mahoning Valley, say their budgets are already tight and that rounding up matching dollars will be a challenge.
Any attempt to raise local taxes to pay for Trump’s infrastructure plan will be a nonstarter.
After all, the president is also pushing a 25-cent hike in the federal gas tax. It was last raised 25 years ago to the current 18.4 cents.
As we noted in a recent editorial, the tax cuts advocated by the Trump administration and passed by Congress with Republican votes only will create $1 trillion deficits. However, proponents argue that lowering taxes on businesses and individuals will result in unprecedented economic growth.
Nonetheless, we believe it would have made a lot more sense for Trump and the Republicans to forgo the tax reductions and to use the revenue for the infrastructure program.
It’s unrealistic to expect state and local governments to pick up most of the tab. Historically, such federal government initiatives have been based on a funding formula with Washington committing 80 percent of the cost and local communities 20 percent.
As for Trump’s idea of reaching out to corporate America to help finance the infrastructure program, does anyone believe that private investors will be driven by patriotism and altruism?
The bottom line is that investors will expect a major return on their dollars, which raises the prospect of private ownership of the nation’s highways.
Several years ago, there was a proposal to explore the possibility of privatizing the Ohio Turnpike. We strongly opposed any such move, and fortunately the idea was short-lived.
But with the federal government entering into partnerships with the private sector, taxpayers have a right to know what commitments the president would be making.
With all the questions that remain unanswered, we would hope President Trump uses his visit Thursday to Summit County to give the American people some insight into his thinking about the public-private partnership.