WASHINGTON, D.C. — Bay Area politicians and transportation officials decried President Trump’s much-anticipated infrastructure spending proposal, unveiled Monday, as “woefully inadequate” to make the kinds of improvements to public transit and congestion management the region so desperately needs.
“After a full year of empty boasts, the president has finally unveiled a puny infrastructure scam that fully fails to meet the need in America’s communities,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco. “The Trump plan is to raise tolls on commuters, increase the burden on cities and states, sell our essential infrastructure to the whims of Wall Street, and yank away the protections that keep consumers safe and our air and water clean.”
The proposal, which still must be approved by Congress and will face fierce obstacles from both parties, outlines $200 billion in federal spending over 10 years for a wide range of infrastructure improvements — from rural WiFi connectivity to energy to upgrading Veterans Affairs facilities to highways. It relies heavily on state, local and private funds to leverage those dollars into $1.5 trillion in spending on infrastructure projects.
Of that, only $100 billion of the proposed infrastructure spending will be dedicated to its “Incentive Programs,” for which California and Bay Area agencies would be able to apply. Another $50 billion is dedicated to rural infrastructure improvements, which would be distributed to governors; $20 billion is slated for infrastructure financing; $10 billion is dedicated to purchasing federal property that is currently leased; and $20 billion is dedicated to a “Transformative Projects Program,” described as projects that are “ambitious, exploratory, and ground-breaking.” The funds in the transformative pot are not limited to transportation but could also include clean water, energy, commercial space and broadband sectors.
That works out to roughly $10 billion per year, of which, each state can only apply to receive up to 10 percent, which is not a lot of money for costly public transit and highway projects, said Randy Rentschler, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the region’s transportation planning agency. California is already facing a deferred maintenance backlog of $67 billion, according to the governor’s budget office.
“This whole thing is woefully inadequate,” Rentschler said. “This is not remotely close to a major infrastructure plan and not remotely close to something that could be significant for transportation.”
Already, federal grants favor applications from state and local sponsors that contribute matching funds to finance infrastructure projects. And the Bay Area, in particular, has a long history of voting to tax itself to support investments in transportation. California last year increased its gas tax and approved a 10-year extension of its Cap-and-Trade program, both of which contribute significant funds for transportation projects.
Historically, the state and local agencies needed only to provide a 20 percent match for federal funding, though Bay Area projects often offered more, said Carl Guardino, the president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and a member of the California Transportation Commission. Under Trump’s proposal, those requirements are flipped, with an 80 percent match requirement.
The Bay Area’s fledgling toll lanes could benefit from such a proposal, Rentschler said. But it’s less clear how other high-profile projects, such as extending BART to San Jose would benefit, Guardino said. The second phase of the project already has 65 percent to 70 percent of local matching funds, he said, but would need to account for the rest.
“We’re closer to being competitive that most regions have been or probably will be,” Guardino said. “But this new requirement would be a stretch for most projects in our region.”
At the same time, Trump released his proposed 2019 budget Monday, which includes some $240 billion in proposed cuts over the coming decade to an array of existing infrastructure programs — more than what Trump is proposed as “new” spending, according to an analysis by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York.
“This would be a big mistake and counterproductive to fostering prosperous communities,” said Paul Skoutelas, the president and CEO of the American Public Transportation Association.
Nevertheless, Skoutelas said he was encouraged by Congress’ decision earlier this year to reject similar proposed cuts in the 2018 budget and called Trump’s infrastructure plan an opportunity to “push for a bipartisan approach that continues and expands upon the historic federal support needed to address public transportation’s priorities.”
Congressional Democrats are pushing for their own plan to spend $1 trillion in public funds, investing in projects that aren’t partially privatized. Their blueprint would focus on roads and bridges and expand already-existing programs like TIGER grants, which go to transit, rail and bicycle path funding, as well as roads and highways.
And, there will be a lot of room for change before the proposal is enacted, said Michele Nellenbach, director of strategic initiatives at the Bipartisan Policy Center. She lauded the president’s focus on infrastructure as a “a catalyst for bipartisan, bicameral action” and a “good starting point for Congress to get to work.”
“There is broad agreement that something must be done soon to address current deficiencies and future improvements,” she said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the federal funding in the president’s framework is not sufficient to meet the ambitious goals to which it aspires.”uc
‘Woefully inadequate:’ Bay Area leaders decry Trump’s ‘puny’ infrastructure plan