WASHINGTON -- President Trump asked Congress Tuesday in his State of the Union address to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for new infrastructure investment, but provided no solutions on how to fund it.
Trump also repeated his vow to speed up approval of infrastructure projects by streamlining regulations.
“America is a nation of builders,” Trump said. “We built the Empire State Building in just one year. Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a minor permit approved for the building of a simple road?”
Trump embraced the recent call by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- without mentioning them – to reduce the permitting approval process to two years or less.
The International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association applauded that pledge.
“We are encouraged by the President’s call to cut burdensome regulations and laws that prevent states from accessing all available funding options to meet their local needs,” Patrick Jones, executive director and CEO of IBTTA, said in a statement. “The current federal restriction on tolling of the interstate system is one such barrier to increased highway investment. Some of the highest capacity, interstate quality highways in America would never have been built without tolling.”
But Trump’s estimate of $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investment was less than the “about $1.7 trillion” plan he told members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors about at the White House less than a week ago on Jan. 24.
The administration is planning on using $200 billion in federal spending over 10 year to leverage that investment by reducing the federal percentage of cost sharing to 20% from the traditional 80%, according a draft outline of the of plan leaked recently.
“Every federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with state and local governments and, where appropriate, tapping into private sector investment to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit,” Trump said.
That reference was the closest Trump came to mentioning private activity bonds which are expected to be used in connection with public-private partnerships for some of those projects.
PABs also are widely used to finance multifamily housing and some single-family mortgage revenue bonds, but the president made no mention of the nation’s affordable housing needs.
“Housing is infrastructure, and the administration’s infrastructure plan should contain specific provisions to support building more affordable housing and preserving what we have now but are likely to lose without concerted action,” Garth Rieman, interim executive director of the National Council of State Housing Agencies said.
The administration’s infrastructure plan as outlined in a leaked memo would lift the annual state caps on PABs used for infrastructure. Rieman said his organization “strongly supports” lifting those caps.
Municipal bond market participants are still waiting for the administration’s explanation of how the $200 billion of federal infrastructure funding will be paid for.
Trump, however, didn’t mention any details on this.
Members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors were told by a top White House official last week that the money will come from cuts to existing transportation programs and won’t include any new revenue.
D.J. Gribbin, special assistant to the president for infrastructure policy, assured the mayors the money won’t come from existing formula aid provided through the Highway Trust Fund.
Emily Brock, director of the federal liaison office of the Government Finance Officers Association, said she was encouraged by the bipartisan nature of the proposal, but added, “We will be watchful to ensure that any new programs do not take away from current programs or diminish the vital and longstanding tax-exempt bond market.”
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials commended Trump for highlighting infrastructure, but executive director Bud Wright repeated his organization’s call for “a long-term strategy to shore up the Highway Trust Fund.”