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Trump, GOP should put together a real infrastructure bill

At his State of the Union address, President Trump returned to a core campaign promise when he said “we will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways across our land.”

Rebuilding crumbling roads, rails, bridges, water treatment plants and other infrastructure is an obvious need that citizens and lawmakers of any political leaning can agree on. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2017 Infrastructure Report gives the nation a D plus for the state of its infrastructure and estimates $2 trillion in upgrades is needed to keep America safer and competitive in the global marketplace.

While it is often said infrastructure needs are one thing that Democrats and Republicans can agree on, their approach to a fix is vastly different.

Trump’s plan is for $1.5 trillion in construction and repairs over 10 years. But only $200 billion would come from the federal government, with the other $1.3 trillion to come from private investments and already burdened states and cities. Using public-private partnerships to improve infrastructure should be part of the solution. Allowing private companies to invest in projects and then collect revenues from them is an idea championed by many Republicans and Democrats, including Barack Obama.

But such partnerships can only be used on some projects, such as toll roads and bridges. Most highway, rail and other infrastructure projects simply can’t be monetized. And even if ways could be found to monetize them, we doubt most Americans want them. Paying taxes to fund public projects is preferable to paying every time you use something. And toll-paid projects invariably put added burdens on those with lower incomes.

And privately financed projects are invariably built in major cities where the payback is higher, leaving rural America out of luck. Many Democrats favor a much larger federal investment in infrastructure. Some Republicans are already saying the government doesn’t have the money to spend on such a major investment, which is curious on the heels of their tax cut legislation that adds $1.5 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years.

As it stands, Trump’s proposal is woefully inadequate. He and the GOP majority can and should work on meaningful legislation. More money could be generated from things like increasing the federal gas tax, which hasn’t been raised in 25 years. And there are proposals for reforming laws that would make it easier for private companies to build and then operate things like water treatment plants. The need to fix the country’s crumbling infrastructure is obvious to all. Now lawmakers and the president need to provide the reforms and financial backing to make it happen.

— Mankato Free Press