When then-candidate Donald J. Trump first began making public statements about what would become his infrastructure plan back in August of 2016, observers were uncertain as to what exactly they could expect. Just before that time, candidate Hillary Clinton put forth a $275 billion infrastructure plan, which Trump proposed to “at least double.” Pressed for specifics, campaign staff promised that details would come later in the summer of 2016. By November, the $500 billion proposal had grown to $1 trillion and evolved into a bullet-point list of criticisms and goals on his campaign website. The prospect of infrastructure investment, a long-recognized need, was welcomed by those across the political spectrum, even if the details were still murky.
Faced with cynicism, even within his own party, especially as to cost, Trump clarified that he intended to fund his infrastructure plan through a combination of tax credits and “innovative financing programs” that would provide a “10-to-1 return on investment.” This financing program was also met with criticism, however, in that, because the thought was that such a program relies on a tax credit, only revenue-generating projects with collectible user fees, such as toll roads and bridges, would be capable of being funded in this manner. Further criticism was aimed at the specter of increasing privatization of once-public assets and the invitation for tax fraud perpetrated on an under-funded IRS that the financing scheme might bring with it. A more specific articulation of the plan authored by investor Wilbur Ross and controversial economist Peter Navarro drew further attention to its potential gaps in reasoning and practical shortcomings.
Trump’s election to the Presidency in November and inauguration just last week means that fans and critics alike will have a chance to see these proposals in action, if and when they get through Congress and off the ground. There is no dispute that infrastructure investment is badly needed across the country, and in some cases, long overdue. In January of 2017 the United States Department of Transportation issued its report, “2015 Status of the Nation’s Highways, Bridges and Transit: Conditions and Performance,” which showed mixed trends in the physical integrity of American infrastructure, and a worsening of operational performance (i.e., the costs of wasted time and fuel caused by congestion on the roads). Further, the report identified an $836 billion backlog of unmet capital investment needs for highways and bridges alone. This figure did not include the backlog for other vital pieces of American infrastructure such as the water supply, sewer systems, airports, railroads, and sea ports.
If the needed funding does materialize, whether in the form of public or private money, the construction industry will be ready to get to work. A January 2017 news release by The Associated General Contractors of America noted that 73% of construction firms planned to hire new employees in 2017 due to expectations of strong demand for construction in both the public and private sectors across all market segments. The enthusiasm of those in the industry for President Trump’s proposed infrastructure plans can perhaps best be seen through AGC of America’s recent publication, “An Agenda to Rebuild Our Infrastructure & Our Craft Workforce.” In it, AGC highlights the need for infrastructure investment, noting that the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the overall state of American infrastructure a “D+” rating. Further, AGC makes several suggestions as to possible financing ideas, demonstrating support for public private partnerships. Public private partnerships, or “P3,” are growing in popularity and a likely source of funding for a large chunk of President Trump’s infrastructure investment proposals. We will explore P3, and their costs and benefits, in our next blog post. Until then, the construction industry outlook for 2017 looks good, and, like the rest of America, the industry will have to wait and see how the Trump infrastructure plan unfolds before passing final judgment.
Niel’s admission to the Connecticut Bar is currently pending.