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Lawmakers fear Trump's $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan won't help WNY

WASHINGTON — President Trump Monday proposed a radical overhaul in how America build roads, bridges and other public works projects, but it left New York lawmakers thinking it would do little if any good for their home state.

Touted as a 10-year, $1.5 trillion infrastructure proposal, the plan aims to spur that sort of investment nationwide with just $200 billion in federal funds. State and local governments, along with the private sector, would compete for some of that federal aid – and then lay down big money of their own to finish the projects.

Trump called it “the biggest and boldest infrastructure investment in American history."

But Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, said the plan would likely not do a thing for projects on Western New York's infrastructure wish list, such as a new plaza at the Peace Bridge and a renovation of the DL&W Terminal.

That's because Trump's plan would push so much of the costs for such projects onto state and local governments that just could not afford them, he said.

"The White House infrastructure plan is another thinly veiled hit on local and state taxpayers," said Higgins, who for years has advocated an increase in direct federal infrastructure investment six times larger than the one Trump proposed on Monday.

Under Trump's plan, "For every $6.50 of local and state road and bridge spending, the federal government will offer $1," Higgins said.

Even one of Trump leading congressional supporters, Republican Rep. Chris Collins of Clarence, said he had concerns about whether $200 billion in federal spending could possibly spur another $1.3 trillion in infrastructure investment nationwide.

"The President’s announcement today is a first step in the process, leaving it up to Congress to work out the specifics and I think we will see serious changes and improvements," Collins said.

In devoting a relatively small amount of federal funding to the infrastructure effort, Trump's proposal differs radically from earlier such efforts, such as the construction of the interstate highway system and former President Barack Obama's economic stimulus bill.

Half of the federal money Trump proposes to set aside – $100 billion – would be dedicated to a new "Incentives" program in which states and localities could apply for federal grants for infrastructure programs.

The plan's outline says it's an effort to give states and localities more say over public works, since they know more about local needs than the federal government does.

"The Incentives Program would provide support to wide-ranging classes of assets, including the following governmental infrastructure: surface transportation and airports, passenger rail, ports and waterways, flood control, water supply, hydropower, water resources, drinking water facilities, wastewater facilities, stormwater facilities, and Brownfield and Superfund sites," the president's proposal said.

Under the plan, Incentives Grants could cover no more than 20 percent of the new revenue collected in order to fund infrastructure projects. State and local governments would have to pay the rest, and Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, said few would be able to afford to do so.

"What he's really saying is that only wealthy communities are going to be able to do this, first of all, and second of all, only communities that are going to able to raise taxes are going to be able to use this money," Gillibrand said.

"It's not helpful, and I think it's not a well-thought-out plan," she added.

Higgins said the plan just doesn't include enough federal funding.

"Oddly, the amount of federal spending is nearly equal to U.S. road and bridge building in Iraq and Afghanistan," he noted. "Moreover, Iraq and Afghanistan got a major much better deal, with no local match, than Americans would get under this plan."

The Trump plan also calls for $50 billion in federal funding for a new rural infrastructure plan. Most of that money would be delivered to governors, who would then be able to decide how to use it to boost roads, water systems, broadband internet access and other infrastructure projects in the countryside.

Another $20 billion would go to boosting projects largely funded through "private activity bonds" – that is, infrastructure projects built by the private sector, such as toll roads.

Some $20 billion would go, too, to "transformative projects": new infrastructure ideas that would be seen as too risky without a push from the federal government.

The last $10 billion would be spread among a variety of initiatives in the plan, which also calls for a dramatic rollback of federal regulations requiring permits for many infrastructure projects.

The president's proposal includes no details about how to pay for the $200 billion in additional federal funding, leaving Congress to work that out.

Trump's plan met a tepid reaction on Capitol Hill.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, warned that the bill would overburden local governments and result in "Trump tolls" to pay for road construction all over the country.

"Democrats want to work in a bipartisan way to improve our infrastructure, which is why we put forward a real plan that would expand access to high-speed internet across the country, rebuild our roads and bridges, and modernize our electric grid while creating millions of good-paying, middle-class jobs," Schumer said. "Unfortunately, the president’s plan falls short on all these fronts.”

Meantime, the Republican chairmen of the two congressional committees that oversee infrastructure investment stopped far short of endorsing Trump's proposal, and instead said they would develop their own.

"I will work side by side with President Trump to make modernizing our infrastructure a reality," said Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, in a statement.

And Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in a statement: "The president is a builder who understands the importance of infrastructure to jobs and our economy, and I welcome the release of his Administration’s principles today as Congress prepares to develop an infrastructure bill."

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