Friday, January 20, 2017

Here's what Trump said about infrastructure in his Inaugural Address

During his Inaugural Address, incoming President Donald Trump mentioned transportation infrastructure twice. Here are the two mentions and what they might mean for future policy:

First, while sharing a bleak description of America's recent past, Trump included our decaying infrastructure in a list of what America has gotten wrong by not putting itself first for the past several years:

"...and spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas, while America's infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay."

He previously said, in a presidential debate, that the money America spent in Iraq would have been better spent at home, including on transportation infrastructure, so this is a frequently-used talking point of his. Given the general theme of the address - about putting America first - it is likely he will continue talking about rebuilding America rather than focusing on problems overseas.

Later on, while outlining his vision for America's future, Trump again brought up transportation infrastructure as a means of creating jobs:

"We will build new roads and highways and bridges and airports and tunnels and railways all across our wonderful nation. We will get our people off welfare and back to work, rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor. We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and Hire American."

That last part, Buy American and Hire American, is particularly important, as it describes policies that require the use of American materials and American labor for constructing infrastructure. Transportation Secretary-designate Elaine Chao has previously said she didn't support Buy America rules, so it will be interesting to see whether that sort of provision makes it into an infrastructure package passed by Congress.

It is also important that Trump mentioned airports and railways in addition to the traditional "car infrastructure" (roads, highways, bridges, tunnels). Trump's infrastructure proposal so far relies heavily on tax-incentivized private investment, which will likely mean toll roads and other infrastructure that can turn a profit for those private interests. So if Trump is also committed to other kinds of transportation infrastructure projects - and Secretary Chao seems open to federal direct spending on important projects - they could help ensure that a bill passed by Congress is more wide-reaching than roads and highways. I will be hoping to see funding for high-speed rail, in particular.

It will also be interesting to see whether other types of infrastructure - energy, telecommunications, water, and others - make it into an infrastructure package.

While not a major focus of his speech in any way - no particular policy was, though border security and national defense got a few more mentions than infrastructure did - Trump made it clear that rebuilding our infrastructure remains among his priorities and that he views it through a lens of job creation and economic development.

Now, it's up to Congress to pass a bill.

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