President Donald Trump today officially rolled out his proposal to spur $1.5 trillion in new infrastructure investment, eliciting praise from farm groups for the 55-page plan that highlights the need to improve rural, roads, bridges, waterways and internet access.
“We are encouraged that the administration is acknowledging the need for significant investment in rural infrastructure,” said National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson. “With over $3.6 trillion required to overcome decades of deferred maintenance, our nation’s roads, bridges, rails, locks and dams, water and waste systems, and rural broadband are in desperate need of robust funding. We look forward to working with Congress to maximize opportunities to improve rural America’s failing infrastructure.”
Trump’s “Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America” would dedicate $50 billion, or 25 percent, of the total proposed price tag of $200 billion in federal funding that the White House says will spur massive amounts of spending across the country. In a brief television appearance, Trump called his proposal a "common sense plan that every congressman should support" and said the "vast majority" of Americans are supportive.
“While past infrastructure plans have left rural America in the dust, this administration has not forgotten the rural communities that form the backbone of our nation,” said American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall. “The proposed $50 billion in rural spending will help restore our deteriorating infrastructure and protect U.S. agriculture’s place as a world leader in production.”
The plan seeks to spark non-rural infrastructure investment in two ways – through direct federal investment that’s matched with state and local funds ($100 billion) and through loans and private activity bonds ($20 billion). An additional $20 billion would be directed solely at “transformative” projects designed to “lift the American spirit,” and $10 billion would go toward a capital financing fund that would “reduce inefficient leasing of federal real property which would be more cost-effective to purchase.”
The $50 billion in incentive funding for rural infrastructure projects is a priority in the Trump plan and would be handled differently than the other $100 billion in direct federal investment. Those funds would go directly to state governors as block grants to allow states to set their own priorities.
“We also applaud the administration for placing the decisions of how these dollars should be spent back at the local level,” Duvall said. “Governors and local officials know their roads and bridges better than anyone, and they are ready to set the priorities for rebuilding rural America.”
USDA Chief Sonny Perdue stressed that rural America needs the investment more than urban areas.
“With a quarter of the new federal money heading to rural parts of the country, states will have the ability to expand broadband access, increase connectivity, rebuild roads, and supply affordable utilities,” Perdue said. “Importantly, states will have the flexibility to choose which projects will best meet their unique needs.”
The plan, which Congress must approve for it to become law, also seeks to drastically reduce the time it takes for projects to move through the environmental permitting process. Whereas it can take more than a decade now to get a federal permit to start on a project like rebuilding one of the crumbling locks on the Mississippi River, the plan calls for a maximum of two years.
While the goal of curtailing the permitting process is being lauded by many, it’s also drawn criticism that U.S. environmental safeguards would be weakened.
“It is categorically false to suggest that we must sacrifice public health standards and basic environmental protections in order to build critical infrastructure projects efficiently,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “Americans want and deserve both.”
But the Farm Bureau’s Duvall praised the plan.
“With less bureaucratic red tape and more local ownership, we’re confident this plan gives rural America the tools to drive our economy forward,” he said.