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Guest editorial: Infrastructure next big US challenge
The one thing most everyone expected from the White House this year — a big new infrastructure deal — now looks dead in the water. How bad a setback is it?
“Infrastructure Week” wrapped up with President Donald Trump pulling the plug on his own Advisory Council on Infrastructure. It wasn’t even fully staffed. Construction stocks, expected to shoot up as Congress approved major outlays, are tanking.
Panels of advisors are unlikely saviors in moments this uncertain, but when it comes to infrastructure — a bipartisan issue with strong public support — there’s good reason to consider forming a private-sector council capable of charting a path forward.
The harsh truth is that Trump himself is responsible for failing to move forward as expected on an issue as important and straightforward as infrastructure.
Thanks to his response to the recent events in Charlottesville, Va., Trump drove away so many business leaders affiliated with his administration that, in addition to losing the support of his nascent infrastructure council, he also faced so many defections from the American Manufacturing Council and the Strategic and Policy Forum that those groups had to be shuttered as well.
For a president voted in on the apparent strength of his ability to broker workable deals with established players in business and industry, these are not just setbacks. They are indicators that Trump can’t deliver on what was, by any measure, one of his presidency’s core value propositions.
The notion of depending on the federal government to solve all of our transportation issues was always folly, though.
Government management of infrastructure has failed just as spectacularly — if not more so — than in other areas, leading to unmet needs, added costs (not only from inefficiency, but also from policies like the federal Davis-Bacon Act and state and local prevailing wage mandates that require above-market union wages to be paid on public works projects, significantly hiking their costs), infrastructure deterioration, maintenance backlogs, and fanciful, economically unjustified projects undertaken primarily for political reasons (think transit projects with overoptimistic ridership projections and lowball cost estimates).
Moreover, the federal government’s ubiquitous involvement in state and local infrastructure projects makes little sense — unless it is to bring some pork back to representatives’ home districts.
So, while it is all well and good to ponder the nation’s infrastructure needs, and to consult experts in the field for advice and ideas, we should be looking more to get government out of providing infrastructure, in favor of privatization — or, at the very least, public-private partnerships — where projects are funded by private capital and through user fees, where appropriate.
To his credit, the PPP approach was a major component of Trump’s infrastructure plans. But too much of the rest of it amounted to a blank check for unknown projects with undefined funding sources.
It may be tempting to look to a central authority to solve problems as large and complex as our infrastructure needs, but we would be better served to return those funds to taxpayers and allow infrastructure decisions to be based on supply and demand — not political pull.
Orange County Register, Aug. 29