Government Issues

Both parties address infrastructure funding — poorly

Posted on August 15, 2016 by James Blue


I wrote last time that, once again, everyone agrees that funding for infrastructure must be increased but disagree on how to pay for it. Since then, both major U.S. political parties’ platforms have been voted on in this presidential election year, and they were true to the previous pattern, but could not be more different this time.

Not really Trump’s party on transit
To his credit, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump vows to rebuild America’s crumbling roads, railways and airports, decrying their second-class status against the world’s top economies. His party, however, just voted to end federal involvement in public transportation assistance, citing it as an “unproductive” investment. This was the proposal of the most extreme faction of the House Republican Conference that was rejected several times before. If anything, the platform has doubled down on this throwback position.

“The public transportation industry is currently underfunded,” said the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) Acting President/CEO Richard A. White in a statement opposing the GOP’s plan. “Having no federal funds would be devastating, not only to the millions of Americans who use public transportation and to the employers who depend on it for their employees, but also for communities of all sizes that need it for a thriving economy and quality of life.”

Democrats almost as fanciful
On the other hand, the Democratic platform could not be more diametrically opposed. Both Democratic nominee and the platform call for substantially increased federal funding in infrastructure, including public transportation and intercity passenger rail. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign released an infrastructure plan nearly a year ago, proposing $250 billion in federal investment, as well as an additional $25 billion to capitalize an infrastructure bank. While the platform doesn’t specify those amounts, it commits to increasing public and private mass transit investments, which is where the platform comes up short.

There is no mention of how to pay for the commitments, and given the voting records of the three on the opposing presidential tickets who have served in Congress, the chances of making the Highway Trust Fund solvent, which would be the primary means of funding these investments, remains slim. And, because of that lack of long-term, sustainable commitment, businesses and agencies cannot plan, which undermines the job creation that Democrats seek in their platform. However, the Democratic platform’s lack of funding commitment is a far cry better than the Republicans’ call for a disinvestment that looks more like their platform of the 1920s than one that will take them through to 2020.

Engagement and education needed
To their credit, APTA Business Members hosted receptions at both the Republican and Democratic Conventions this past July. Given the inadequacies of the one platform, and the utter contempt for public transportation in the other, similar outreach efforts will have to be repeated many times in the coming months.

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