Trump Adviser Says Infrastructure Push Won’t Have New Revenue

Amtrak, transit programs will be cut instead, he says

The White House says it will not include any new revenue sources to finance its plan for about $200 billion in infrastructure spending. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call file photo)
The White House says it will not include any new revenue sources to finance its plan for about $200 billion in infrastructure spending. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted January 25, 2018 at 5:24pm

White House infrastructure adviser DJ Gribbin told a gathering of the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Thursday that the Trump administration’s upcoming infrastructure proposal will not include any new revenue to pay for $200 billion of new federal spending.

The White House’s proposal, to be released one to two weeks after the Jan. 30 State of the Union address, would be paid for with money from existing transportation programs, Gribbin said, adding that existing formula funding for major programs would not be touched. He later clarified that certain federal transportation money, including for Amtrak and transit programs, would be cut to pay for the program.

“There are reductions, as you know in last year’s budget, when it comes to Amtrak, when it comes to transit, when it comes to a number of programs,” he said. “We will propose repurposing those dollars. What we’re not proposing is, you know, eliminating the Highway Trust Fund or eliminating state revolving funds. So the major delivery mechanisms for funding infrastructure should remain in place. We do want to repurpose some dollars.”

The current funding formula for surface transportation includes money for transit. It’s unclear how the administration would spare the formula funding as it makes other cuts to transit. It could do so by finding cuts to transit spending that falls outside the formula.

President Donald Trump campaigned on a pledge to provide $1 trillion in infrastructure spending over 10 years. The federal component of that would be $200 billion. The administration missed several 2017 deadlines to deliver a proposal.

“We are going to be open to conversations about how to increase beyond the $200 billion, but we’re not going to start on that front because that’s a decision we think needs to be made collectively between the White House, the House and Senate,” Gribbin said. He also said the administration was neutral about a gas tax increase and would entertain other strategies to raise money for infrastructure.

But the White House would not endorse any particular path to generate revenue, he said.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he was encouraged that Gribbin clarified the administration doesn’t want to eliminate certain spending, even if it didn’t endorse a particular funding plan. Garcetti is chairman of the Conference of Mayors’ infrastructure working group.

“There was more hopeful news that dispelled some of the myths out there, but I think there’s still a long way to go,” Garcetti said. “They are proposing stuff without filling in the ‘how,’ but I appreciate at least it’s not opposition to some of the funding sources like gas tax and a willingness to go above and beyond.”

Gribbin declined to speak to reporters as he left the meeting.

His comments to the mayors largely confirmed a six-page document obtained by Axios and Politico this week purporting to outline the administration’s proposal. The document describes spending not just for transportation projects, but also for energy, water and wastewater, telecommunications and even Veterans Affairs facilities.

The $200 billion in federal funding would be split into four “buckets,” Gribbin said: an incentive program that would provide a partial federal match for states and local government that bring their own money to the table, a rural grant program, a program for what the document called transformational projects, and a so-called plus-up of federal lending programs.

The administration would not dictate which modes of infrastructure could be included, he said.

Gribbin, a former general counsel for the Department of Transportation, said the administration sought to avoid longstanding conflict over whether money should be spent on transit or highways, for example. He has previously said the main determinant would be the amount of non-federal money applicants provided, which is in line with the document leaked this week.

Gribbin said the administration has encountered “push-back” on Capitol Hill over the “transformational” program because people didn’t understand what it was.

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