by KEVIN FREKING and DAVID PORTER, Associated Press | February 13, 2018
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump's long-awaited infrastructure plan calls for giving government agencies the authority to sell off airports, roads and other federal assets. The president is calling for divesting assets when federal agencies can show the sale would "optimize taxpayer value."
The proposal lists Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Dulles International Airport, both in Virginia, as examples of the types of assets that could meet the criteria.
"Trump isn't trying to fix our infrastructure, he's trying to sell it off," said Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va.
Trump also cited two major roadways in the Washington, D.C., region that could be sold: the George Washington Memorial and Baltimore-Washington parkways, both of which are maintained by the National Park Service.
The president's plan notes that the federal government owns and operates certain infrastructure that would be more appropriately owned by the private sector or by states and municipalities. The plan states that the vast majority of the nation's electrical needs are met through private utilities, and that federal ownership can lead to "sub-optimal investment decisions and create risk for taxpayers." Along those lines, Trump's proposal states that other potential assets that could be divested include transmission lines operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Bonneville Power Administration. Similar plans in the past have been met with stiff bipartisan opposition.
Former Democratic President Barack Obama had also broached the idea of selling the Tennessee Valley Authority, an icon of the New Deal. Obama said in his 2014 budget that selling the U.S-owned power company could reduce the federal deficit by at least $25 billion and "help put the nation on a sustainable fiscal path."
"It's one more bad idea in a budget full of bad ideas," Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said at the time.
Per Trump's proposal, agencies selling federal property would have to show how the proceeds would be spent, identify the conditions under which sales could be made, and conduct an analysis showing the increase in value that resulted from the divestiture.
NY-NJ tunnel project in jeopardy
In the New York-New Jersey area, proponents of a $13 billion project to build a new rail tunnel between under the Hudson River, seen as critical for the future of the nation's busiest rail corridor, strongly oppose Trump's infrastructure proposal.
The budget released by the White House on Monday envisions $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending over the next 10 years. However, only $200 billion would allocated to direct federal spending aimed at leveraging state and local dollars. State and local governments would be able to use the federal money for only up to 20 percent of a project's cost, which is vastly different from the model officials supporting the tunnel project have relied upon. Their estimates have been based on an agreement reached with President Obama for the states and federal government to split the cost for the larger rail project called Gateway.
In a letter to New York and New Jersey officials in late December, the deputy administrator of the Federal Transit Administration called that agreement "nonexistent."
Democratic New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said Monday's budget proposal "would put unsustainable burdens on our local government and lead to Trump tolls all over the country," referring to the plan's proposal to sell some federally owned roads.
John Porcari, a former federal Department of Transportation official who is interim head of the Gateway Development Corp., which is overseeing the tunnel project, said more federal commitment is needed. "The Gateway Program remains the most urgent infrastructure program in America and a project of national significance for which there is not a minute to lose," Porcari said. "In order for programs across the country like Gateway to be successful, we must substantially increase direct federal investment in infrastructure."
The existing tunnel is more than 100 years old and suffered saltwater damage during 2012's Superstorm Sandy. Amtrak, which owns the tunnel, has cautioned that one or both of the tubes -- one inbound to Penn Station, one outbound -- could fail in the next 10 to 15 years. Transportation experts have estimated that taking one of the tubes out of service would reduce peak-period trains from 24 per hour to six, leading to crippling delays along the Northeast Corridor stretching from Boston to Washington, D.C.
Republican New Jersey Rep. Leonard Lance referenced the tunnel project's importance to the nation as well as the region. "Any serious national infrastructure plan must include this link for $3 trillion in annual economic output and 20 percent of the nation's gross domestic product," Lance said.
New Jersey and New York have committed a combined $5.5 billion, half of the estimated cost of constructing the new tunnel. The remainder of the first phase involves replacing a century-old swing bridge in northern New Jersey that occasionally gets stuck in an open position, among other improvements. New Jersey plans to pay for its share by raising fares on cross-Hudson River rail trips, while New York plans to finance its portion through an annual appropriation.