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Progressive lawmakers lay out alternative infrastructure plan

Originally published in The Hill

By Melanie Zanona

 

The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) will lay out its own infrastructure proposal this week, staking out a position ahead of a legislative debate over transportation that is expected to heat up later this year.

The effort, spearheaded by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), attempts to paint a clear contrast with President Trump’s infrastructure vision by calling for direct public investment in roads, bridges and other public works, as opposed to providing “corporate giveaways” to spur private-sector investment.

The proposal from Lieu would inject $2 trillion into a wide range of transportation projects over 10 years, including those that boost public transit systems, water and sewer systems, clean-energy jobs, high-speed internet access and veterans hospitals.

The initiative would create 2.5 million jobs in the first year, according to the group, and take extra steps to ensure fair wages, workplace safety and racial and gender equality.

For example, the white paper would raise the benchmark for locally prevailing wages in each area, require local hiring to reflect the racial and gender diversity of the community’s workforce, include robust “Buy America” requirements and prioritize the hiring of veterans.

The effort would be paid for by closing corporate tax loopholes and enacting other tax reforms.

“The American people deserve to have a serious conversation about how to address these needs. To fund infrastructure projects, President Trump's relatively small and incoherent plan would use irresponsible tax gimmicks that benefit Wall Street at the expense of taxpayers,” Lieu said in a statement.

“My colleagues and I know that Americans cannot afford to settle for this scam. Instead, we have introduced the 21st Century New Deal for Jobs to ensure that Congress boldly addresses our infrastructure needs and supports a plan that creates millions of jobs without sacrificing protections for workers and the environment.”

Trump has floated the idea of offering tax credits to private investors who want to back transportation projects. But that model would likely only benefit projects that can recoup their own investment costs through a revenue stream like user fees or toll ways, which has raised concern among Democrats and rural Republicans.

While Trump has yet to unveil his infrastructure plan, it’s expected to include about $200 billion in taxpayer dollars to leverage $1 trillion worth of overall investment through public-private partnerships.

Although Trump has characterized Democrats as “desperate for infrastructure,” it’s not necessarily going to be easy getting them on board.

The alternative plan from the Congressional Progressive Caucus further underscores the challenge facing the administration in making a deal with Democrats.

The White House needs to get the support of some Democratic lawmakers without alienating too many conservatives in order to get his infrastructure package over the finish line in Congress.

But conservative groups have laid out their own infrastructure wish list, which includes reforming the environmental review process and repealing labor regulations — two concepts that could directly conflict with Progressive Caucus ideals.

“President Trump and Congressional Republicans are pushing a trillion-dollar corporate giveaway that would create tax incentives for Wall Street to privatize our roads, bridges, sanitation systems, and utilities, while raising tolls, fees, and bills — all through taxpayer subsidies,” the CPC blueprint says.

“We cannot afford to accept a plan that helps Wall Street investors but leaves ordinary Americans behind.”