In his second year as president, Trump has unveiled an infrastructure plan that heavily relies on public-private partnerships. The president plans to invest just $200 billion in federal spending, expecting the rest of the $1.5 trillion he invisions for the project to come from state and local governments, as well as the private sector. In order to engage the private sector in infrastructure spending, the Trump administration plans to sell federal assets, believing they “would be better managed by state, local, or private entities.”
The federal government should not be so quick to privatize important infrastructure throughout the country. One of the reasons citizens opt-in to our form of centralized government is so public needs can be addressed for their benefit, not for a profit. If bridges or roads are privatized, investors are going to expect to recoup their initial spending, plus a lot more. This means that in the long run, citizens will end up paying more for the same structures. For some, this will be nothing more than a nuisance. For others, a daily toll will price them out of areas of their community. Tax-paying citizens should not be faced with the difficulty of choosing between getting to work and buying groceries for the week.
Despite this, Trump’s infrastructure plan advocates lifting the ban on interstate tolls. In 1956, when Congress created the Interstate Highway System, interstates tolls were banned, except for those already in existence. By lifting the ban, hard-working citizens whose commute to work includes interstate travel could be faced with higher costs.
The Economic Policy Institute believes this is another example of Washington punting a problem to state and local governments, writing in a statement that “if state and local governments predictably dodge the task of financing and funding projects directly, public-private partnerships come with their own set of problems, as natural monopoly characteristics can leave the private partner in a position to hike tolls and degrade service quality.” This appears to be another bill that unilaterally benefits big business, leaving the middle class picking up the tab.
As Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman said, “Donald Trump doesn’t give a dam. Or a bridge. Or a road. Or a sewer system. Or any of the other things we talk about when we talk about infrastructure.” Trump has boasted of being the best dealmaker. Hopefully sooner rather than later, he realizes selling infrastructure is not saving the federal government a quick buck, but charging citizens two– one in taxes, another in tolls. If D.C. is going to continue to collect federal taxes, they should continue to provide services citizens rely on and contribute funding to.