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Schumer warns Trump on infrastructure spending

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York -- the incoming Democratic leader of the Senate -- sent a message to President-elect Donald J. Trump this week about his proposed trillion-dollar investment in roads and other infrastructure: It better include direct federal spending that addresses the nation's real needs.

In a conference call with reporters, Schumer said he would insist that any infrastructure package include traditional government-funded highway and water projects, not just the privately financed projects that Trump wants to support through tax credits.

Nevertheless, Schumer said he wants to work with Trump to come up with a bipartisan infrastructure package.

"It's going to be one of my priorities," Schumer said Wednesday. "I think he agrees that we need to get this to work and to put people to work. But it's got to include real expenditures and direct federal expenditures, not just tax breaks."

Members of both parties increasingly agree that something needs to be done about America's deteriorating roads, bridges, airports, water systems and power grid, along with inadequate internet access in rural areas. But Trump and Schumer -- whose minority caucus will have the power to stop most legislation -- disagree on what a major infrastructure bill would look like, and there is no consensus in Congress yet as to how such a package would be paid for.

Trump proposes an unusual way to pay for projects that have traditionally relied almost exclusively on government funding. He wants to give an 82 percent tax credit to companies that invest in infrastructure projects.

"We believe that this tax credit-assisted program could help finance up to a trillion dollars' worth of projects over a ten-year period," the Trump campaign said in a white paper before the election.

But Democrats prefer the traditional method of allocating government funding for work on roads and bridges, saying that would allow local, state and federal governments to steer money to the projects that are most needed. They argue that allowing the private sector to make infrastructure decisions may result in more toll roads and bridges, but will do nothing to fix the nation's most dire infrastructure needs.

Much of New York would be left out of Trump's infrastructure plan, which could also lead to huge toll increases on some highways, Schumer predicted.

Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat who has been pushing for a huge infrastructure package for years, agreed with Schumer.

"Public investment is the responsibility of the public sector," and cannot be solely financed by tax breaks, Higgins said, adding that the idea of government infrastructure spending is "as old as Lincoln."

Asked about Trump's infrastructure plan, one of his biggest backers -- Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence -- said the discussion on the issue is still early. Eventually, he predicted, Congress can craft an infrastructure package that includes both Trump's tax break proposal and direct government spending.

"There's no question it's going to be a mixture," Collins said.

There is a question, though, about how a massive infrastructure package will be financed.

For years, Republicans in Congress have insisted that all new federal spending be paid for by cuts elsewhere in the budget called "offsets." But Schumer said Trump may propose an infrastructure package that includes tax credits and new spending but with no offsets, meaning it would be paid for with borrowed money.

"That's what the talk is," Schumer said.

Collins said a proposal relying on borrowing would not pass muster with House Republicans.

"We have made a commitment within our conference that whatever we do will be paid for," Collins said.

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