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The infrastructure plan could be a giveaway to Trump’s fellow billionaires



Now we’re playing the infrastructure game. It was one of Trump’s campaign promises, with the candidate vowing to repair bridges, roads, airports, etc. at a minimum investment of $1 trillion.

It was an odd goal for a Republican to pledge to spend a ton of money on public works. Even Trump acknowledged it “is not a very Republican thing.” Well, now that he lost on repealing Obamacare (his #1 promise) but won on his tax bill (#2), infrastructure’s time is finally approaching, with Trump in West Virginia yesterday, chatting with Republicans about the project, whose price tag is now up to $1.5 trillion.

Turns out that Trump has managed to make infrastructure repair “a Republican thing” in the traditional Republican way: not by having the Federal government come up with the money, but by forcing state and local municipalities to pay for the vast majority it. The New York Times reported that Trump is willing to spend “$200 billion in federal money over the next decade,” which is just a drop in the bucket. The remaining $1 trillion-plus would come from “cities, states and private companies.”

It’s not likely that “cities and states” are going to find a great deal of cash, given their other priorities, which means that “private companies” are going to be asked to foot the bill. The problem is that “private companies” don’t invest money in a disinterested way for the public good. They only spend money if they think they can make even more money than they’re spending. When FDR created his vast public works projects during the Depression, he didn’t turn to private corporations to pay for it; he spent public money. Getting stuff built for people was the goal, not making the rich even richer.

Economic experts on the Left understand that depending on “private companies” to fix the nation’s infrastructure woes is putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. “It’s hocus-pocus” declared an infrastructure policy analyst at the Center for American Progress. He suggests that Trump is simply rewarding “wealthy investors” who contributed to his campaign. Trump also is hoping to “gut environmental regulations under the guise of a job-creating, economy-juicing initiative.”

Indeed, the liberal think tank, Democracy Forward, which studied what little is known of Trump’s plan, calls it a “blueprint for cronyism” amid charges that it was “illegally developed in secret” to “enrich President Trump, his business associates, and his friends.” Trump’s Infrastructure Council, responsible for its details, will be led by two of his oldest business friends, Richard LeFrak and Steven Roth.

Bloomberg reports that “Trump’s relationships with the two men…crisscross New York [City] in a web of personal and professional ties.” Roth’s company, Vornado Realty Trust, “is the biggest property owner in the area surrounding Manhattan’s Pennsylvania Station”; he called improving the area “the Big Kahuna.”

Roth’s ties to Trump are extensive; he even gave Jared Kushner $80 million a few years ago to help Trump’s son-in-law get out of a credit crunch on one of the latter’s real estate deals. Meanwhile, LeFrak, who’s worth $7.6 billion, owns more than 400 buildings in New York, as well as vast interests in oil and gas.

Can you imagine the complaints if another Republican president had put Donald Trump in charge of an infrastructure program?

I would feel far more comfortable with disinterested experts, policy wonks and engineers who don’t stand to profit, leading such a massive project. There’s too much risk of conflict of interest when it’s left to Republican businessmen with secretive ties to Trump. We already know that this is an administration with lots to hide. Congressional Democrats have been signaling their skepticism, with a main concern expressed by Sen. Tom Carper, of Delaware: I’m still not sure how you transform $200 billion into $1 trillion. You’ll have to show me.”

Democrats are going to have to scrutinize the details of the plan very, very carefully to make sure it’s a good deal for America, and not just for Donald Trump and his rich friends.

Have a great weekend!


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