As I mentioned in this space last time, the November election was shaping up to be “quite momentous.” Few people knew what an understatement that was. Just as inconsistent as he has been on many other issues so far, how Donald Trump’s Administration governs public transportation is equally uncertain, and the industry must be ready to cope with the many outcomes.
Myriad scenarios are possible
If Trump has his way, his proposal to expand infrastructure investment through a series of tax incentives, debt financing, and other policies to encourage private sector investment could have a dramatic impact on public transportation. While we have yet to see any more details thus far, the leadership in Congress, who are (ostensibly) his allies, has other ideas. Some want to see federal public transportation funding go away entirely, which also happens to have been a plank in the Republican Party platform agreed to this past summer. Others want to see corporate and labor rules like Buy America domestic content requirements, Davis-Bacon wage protections, and 13(c) labor protections also go away.
Meanwhile at the local level, voters approved $150 billion worth of new public transportation investments over the next several decades, supported mainly by dedicated revenues from local sales and property taxes. Some may want to use these new dedicated sources of funds to borrow money from federal loan programs, federal loan guarantees, or to look at public-private partnerships to deliver projects, especially if Trump’s congressional tax plans attract more private sources of capital.
Then again, none of it could happen, and local communities will need to take more control of their destinies with more local ballot initiatives and expanded state funding. To some degree, this has already been happening, as local and state government’s share of public transportation spending is now the majority of all spending. Given the situation, perhaps it is time to ask the feds to relax a variety of rules that have come with federal assistance, if less of it is forthcoming anyway.
The key to watch for is what kind of spending and tax blueprint, called the budget resolution, passes both the Senate and the House. That will lay the groundwork for how the final federal transit budget, tax cuts, loan programs, and trust fund revenues will be decided this fall. The deadline for the budget resolution is in April, and though Congress has regularly missed it, this year its leaders promise to do so — if only because they want to repeal President Obama’s health program.
Get ready — and get involved
The industry must be prepared to respond quickly to any of these possible proposals before they become outcomes. And, the only way to do that is to become vigilant and stay engaged. Get involved in your state associations and in APTA. If the election taught us anything, now is certainly not the time to assume anything.