The Trump administration’s proposal for national infrastructure improvement puts a reality into sharp focus: Somebody has to pay to build or improve all those roads, bridges, rail lines, sewer plants. shipping ports, walking paths and the other items we label under the catchall “infrastructure.”
Under the plan, $200 million spent by the federal government would yield $1.5 trillion worth of new projects.
Money for these projects can’t be conjured. There’s not a magic grove of trees along Washington, D.C.’s, Potomac River that grows “federal money.”
Credit Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao for emphasizing that point Tuesday during a White House briefing.
“You know, federal money is not free,” she said, according to a White House transcript. “Federal money comes from our communities, people, taxpayers and our communities. They take that money, send it to Washington, and then we decide how to use it, and send it back to the communities with a lot of strings attached on what they need to do.”
She went out to say that the Trump proposal will give states and local governments “much greater flexibility to decide their own projects, in conjunction and in partnership with the federal government.”
An alternate way of saying that is to note that cash-strapped states and local communities should not count on a steady supply of federal dollars for road projects or any other big infrastructure improvements. In practical terms, that works out to an 80/20 split with the feds picking up 20 percent of the costs and local governments picking up the rest. The problem in states like Alabama is that we don’t have enough money to afford the Trump deal as outlined this week.
Calhoun County administrator Mark Tyner told The Star this week, “If that were the split, it would be tough.”
Of course, Alabama and/or its local governments could raise taxes to afford their share, but that seems highly unlikely.
The state is more accustomed to a split where he feds pick up 80 percent of the costs and we match with 20 percent. Alabama depends on such generosity from the feds to pave its roads, care for the health needs of its poorest children and adults, clean its drinking water, teach its students and so on.
Wealthy taxpayers from New York, California and elsewhere pick up our tab, and in the process allow Alabama to remain a low-tax state. The Trump infrastrastructure plan forces Alabama to confront this question: How much is the state willing to ask of its own taxpayers to fund the roads and bridges they rely on?