WASHINGTON – White House officials suggested Tuesday that the release of the framework for President Trump’s infrastructure plan may slip until February, as lawmakers introduced two bills on competitive grants for infrastructure.
The president had been expected to introduce updated principles for his infrastructure plan this month, possibly on Jan. 22 or later, around his anticipated Jan. 30 State of the Union speech.
But White House officials, who met with Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Tuesday said that the release of the infrastructure plan may be delayed to February, according to The Hill, POLITICO and other publications.
The administration officials at the meeting, besides President Trump, included the president’s chief economic adviser Gary Cohn and a top aide for infrastructure policy D. J. Gribbin, as well as Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
The meeting turned tense when Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., became upset about the Trump administration’s failure to follow through with a commitment made by the Obama administration to pay for half of the $12.7 billion Gateway Hudson Tunnel Project.
White House officials had late last year briefed several groups on the principles, which emphasized streamlining regulations and the permitting process for infrastructure projects.
The plan also would have included $200 billion of direct funding over 10 years with no idea on how to pay for that. Half of that amount would be used for the 20% federal share of incentive grants to states. Another 25% of the money would be used for infrastructure grants for rural states and the final 25% would be for big, high-profile, so called transformative projects, possibly chosen by the Commerce Dept.
Sources have said selling a plan with no pay-fors could be difficult on Capitol Hill and that the president continues to voice concerns about encouraging public-private partnerships.
Meanwhile, Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., on Monday introduced the Build America Act of 2018 (H.R. 4739), which would invest $12 billion per year over 10 years in infrastructure through competitive, merit-based grants.
“Every year, House Republicans attempt to zero-out funding for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Grants, making it imperative that we protect this vital stream of funding from partisan politics,” Hastings said in a release. “Capital Investment Grants (CIG) and TIGER Grants are heavily utilized by communities across the country.”
The bill would remove the CIG and TIGER programs from the annual appropriations process and establishing them as mandatory programs with expanded funding on a permanent basis. Under the legislation, TIGER and CIG would be funded at $3 billion and $9 billion annually, respectively.
Last Thursday, three Senate Democrats -- Sherrod Brown from Ohio, Ron Wyden from Oregon, and Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island – introduced the Bridge Investment Act (S. 2279).
This bill would create a competitive grant program that invests $75 billion over 10 years in bridge repair projects and leverage additional money from state and local governments. The goal of the bill would be to help ensure that a bipartisan infrastructure package could eliminate the national bridge repair backlog, which the Transportation Dept. estimates will cost $123 billion, nationally.
The measure would also allow entities of all sizes and scope to apply for funding, including states, counties, cities, metropolitan planning organizations, special purpose districts, public authorities, federal land management agencies and Indian tribes.
It would bundle medium and small projects into a single application process to reduce red tape and accelerate repairs. It would also create an innovative evaluation process for proposed projects to ensure that federal funding is allocated in a fair and efficient manner.
Several groups have endorsed the bill, including the National League of Cities and the American Society of Civil Engineers as well as several labor unions.