President-elect Donald Trump, in the first version of his 100-day action plan to make America great again, promised to spend $1 trillion in infrastructure investment over 10 years. He said that the plan would involve leveraging public-private partnerships and private investments through tax incentives, adding that the program would be revenue-neutral.
A few days later in Charlotte, N.C., Trump gave a speech proposing an urban-renewal agenda for the nation’s inner cities, calling it a “new deal for black America.”
“African Americans have sacrificed so much for this nation. … Yet, too many African Americans have been left behind,” Trump said, citing a plan that involves everything from school choice and public safety to financial reforms, tax holidays and tax incentives aimed at making it easier for black businesses to get credit. He told the invitation-only crowd, which was about a quarter African American, that inner cities would be a major beneficiary of the trillion-dollar infrastructure investment.
“I will further empower cities and states to seek a federal disaster delegation for blighted communities in order to initiate the rebuilding of vital infrastructure, the demolition of abandoned properties and the increased presence of law enforcement,” Trump said.
At the time, Democratic North Carolina state Sen. Joel Ford of Charlotte dismissed the speech as “false promises.”
“If he was serious,” Ford told the Charlotte Observer, “his organizations and the businesses he owns would reflect those values, and African Americans who’ve worked for him over the years would be coming out of the woodwork singing his praises.”
But there are questions not only about the president-elect’s infrastructure plan itself but also about how strongly he is committed to it. The day after Trump’s Charlotte speech, two of his top advisers, Peter Navarro and Wilbur Ross, offered a detailed plan (pdf) that some critics say is more about rewarding private-equity investors than rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure. The plan notes that financing $1 trillion would involve an equity assessment of $167 billion and that the government would provide a tax credit equal to 82 percent of the equity amount in order to “encourage investors to commit such large amounts, and to reduce the cost of the financing.”
Ronald Klain, a former assistant to President Barack Obama who oversaw the team implementing the American Recovery and Renewal Act from 2009 to 2011, told the Washington Post that the plan is a “trap.” But R. Glenn Hubbard, dean of the Columbia Business School and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush, told the New York Times that a substantial federal infrastructure-spending program could work if there is a long-term commitment and if it is a partnership paid for by federal, state, local and private funds, with the mix depending on the project.
Trump didn’t mention his $1 trillion infrastructure plan in the second version of his 100-day plan, released last month. In an interview with the New York Times, Trump said that infrastructure would not be the core of his first few years in office, but it would be “an important factor.”
“I think I am doing things that are more important than infrastructure, but infrastructure is still a part of it, and we’re talking about a very large-scale infrastructure bill,” Trump said, “and that’s not a very Republican thing—I didn’t even know that.”
Asked by the Times whether House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would be reluctant to spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure, Trump replied: “Let’s see if I get it done. Right now they’re in love with me. OK?”
But McConnell said earlier this month that he wants to “avoid a trillion-dollar stimulus,” and Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus has said that the new administration will be focusing on issues including health care and rewriting tax laws. That is causing concern among trade associations, lobbyists and organizations such as the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
“We’re worried,” says Brian Turmail, spokesman for the Associated General Contractors of America, which represents more than 26,000 construction companies. “Are we hearing signs that people just don’t know what the plan is? Or signs that people don’t want any kind of plan? We don’t know the answer.”
Still, some Democratic lawmakers, including incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), have supported the president-elect’s interest in spending on infrastructure. Also, Trump is moving to create an infrastructure task force.
Although a spokesman for House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Schuster (R-Pa.) told The Hill that it is too early to discuss the substance and timing of a bill, the committee does plan to work with the Trump administration “in exploring options that make smart, fiscally responsible investments and help ensure America has a 21st-century infrastructure.”
All this might mean is that it could be quite some time before the sounds of construction roar through the nation’s African-American communities or in America’s inner cities.
Allison Keyes is an award-winning correspondent, host and author. She can be heard on CBS Radio News, among other outlets. Keyes, a former national desk reporter for NPR, has written extensively on race, culture, politics and the arts. Follow her on Twitter.