At the beginning of the Obama administration, Democrats had control of the Congress and passed the "stimulus." Unfortunately only a third of that was for infrastructure work. Then Republicans in Congress obstructed every proposal since then to fix up our country's infrastructure. Now the idea of maybe fixing some of our crumbling infrastructure seems to be back on the table.
What is the right way to invest in rebuilding our infrastructure, and how should it be "paid for"?
Infrastructure was one of the few actual policies that received any discussion at all during the election campaign - and it didn't receive much.
During the primary campaign Bernie Sanders proposed a highly detailed $1 trillion plan to bring the country's infrastructure up to par, paid for largely by ending the tax loophole that lets corporations park profits in offshore tax havens to avoid paying the taxes they owe. Hillary Clinton proposed a $275 billion infrastructure plan that included $25 billion to seed a national infrastructure bank. This bank would fund public-private infrastructure projects (such as toll roads and bridges).
Donald Trump proposed spending double what Clinton wanted to spend on infrastructure, apparently without understanding her plan. "And it will be beautiful."
Trump’s website does not explain any details of plans to “build the roads, highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, and the railways of tomorrow.” However, it does mention building a wall.
Trump Wants Taxpayers To Pay To Privatize Infrastructure, Then Pay To Use It
Now that Trump is president, details matter. It appears that instead of paying for infrastructure projects, Trump will propose a weird scheme of giving corporations tax credits for projects they want to do that might be called infrastructure. So the taxpayers pay most of the cost, but the companies then charge tolls and use other means to reap the return from these projects. In other words, the taxpayers will pay for privatization of our infrastructure, and then will pay again to use the infrastructure they paid for.
In Wednesday's Washington Post, John Wagner, in An early look at the sweep of a Trump infrastructure plan describes a document that shows, "an ambitious pledge by Trump to mobilize anywhere from half a trillion to a trillion dollars into upgrading the nation’s aging roads, bridges and transportation hubs." Wagner notes Trump's privatization plan, writing, "Rather than rely solely on direct federal spending, advisers to President Trump have said they would probably use tax credits and public-private partnerships."
Senate Democrats' Plan
Trump promised to spend on our infrastructure and Senate Democrats called Trump's bluff. They offered a highly detailed plan to spend $1 trillion on actual infrastructure, with a plan for paying for it.
Their plan is called "A Blueprint to Rebuild America’s Infrastructure, Creating Over 15 Million New Jobs." Click through for a one-page description or read their full, detailed report.
Here's a quick summary:
● $210 billion to repair crumbling roads and bridges, (saving the average American family over $1,700 a year). 2.7 million new jobs.
● $110 billion to modernize water and sewer systems. 2.5 million new jobs.
● $180 billion to expand rail and bus systems. 2.5 million new jobs
● $200 billion for a new vital infrastructure projects (VIP) program that will direct major federal investments to the most critical national projects. 2.6 million new jobs.
● $75 billion to rebuild America’s schools. 975,000 new jobs.
● $70 billion to modernize America’s ports, airports and waterways. 845,000 new jobs.
● $100 billion to build 21st-century energy infrastructure. 1.3 million new jobs.
● $20 billion to expand broadband access to millions of Americans. 260,000 new jobs.
● $20 billion in funding to address critical infrastructure backlogs on public lands and in Indian country. 260,000 new jobs.
● $10 billion to construct new Veterans Administration hospitals and extended care facilities
● $10 billion to support the creation of new innovative financing. 1.3 million new jobs.
How To Pay For This?
Senate Democrats offered a very simple way to pay for their infrastructure proposal – largely the same plan Sanders offered during the primaries. Corporations have well over $2 trillion of profits stashed in tax havens, just waiting to be taxed. The Senate Democrats say let's just close that loophole and collect those taxes. Doing so would immediately collect more than $700 billion of tax revenue, plus another $100 billion or so each year. In addition, the corporations would "bring the money" back and the untaxed portion would be used to expand and hire, and distribute the rest to shareholders. Either way this brings that money into the US economy.
Americans for Tax Fairness contrasts the Democrats' plan with Trump's, in ATF Applauds Senate Democrats’ Infrastructure Plan Funded by Closing Tax Loopholes,
“This ambitious and doable plan by Senate Democrats stands in sharp contrast to the phony infrastructure proposal put forward by President Trump. That plan is a massive tax giveaway to Wall Street investors. It is not a serious plan to repair our crumbling infrastructure.
“Trump wants to give big tax credits to Wall Street investors to encourage them to build infrastructure projects that generate a steady stream of toll or other user-fee revenue. Charging expensive tolls and user fees to earn big profits for Wall Street investors just hurts the pocketbooks of average taxpayers. It also ensures projects will be developed where they can generate the most profits for investors, not where they are most needed.
“It would be less expensive for all taxpayers if corporations and the wealthy were made to pay their fair share of taxes, with the revenue paying for direct investment in new roads, bridges and water systems, as Senate Democrats have proposed.”
Trump has not offered a way to pay for his "plan." In fact, instead of making corporations pay the taxes they owe on the profits they have stashed in tax havens, Trump is proposing letting them just keep most of it!
But More Is Needed
Unlike the phony populism of Trump, who wants to cloak a massive corporate giveaway of our common assets to his corporate buddy swamp creatures, we the people all have a stake in the bones of our country. We're not going to sell off the naming rights to Yellowstone and we're not going to privatize our highways.
The Senate Democrats' plan is a great start. And it makes corporations and the wealthy pay for it – not profit from it.
But it needs more. It needs more guarantees that it will benefit the people who haven't benefited from the recovery. It should ensure that communities of color and post-industrial communities are at the front of the line for jobs. It needs to prioritize cleaning up poisoned water, air and ground, and move us toward a greener, more sustainable economy.