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June 15, 2017 2:00 PM, EDT

Chao: Administration Still Figuring Out Funding for Infrastructure Plan

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News

The Trump administration has yet to agree on how to fund a portion of a $1 trillion, 10-year infrastructure plan expected to be unveiled this fall, the country’s top transportation officer told House funding leaders on June 15, a week after the White House hosted infrastructure-centric events around the country.

“At this point, suffice it to say nothing is off the table,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee members, who for the most part sounded skeptical about the administration’s promise of modernizing the country’s infrastructure primarily with private capital.

To those skeptical lawmakers, Chao defended the White House’s emphasis on private dollars, ensuring that creative forms of public-private partnerships, as well as funding dedicated for rural projects would be included in a final infrastructure proposal.

The administration offered in a vague outline tucked in a fiscal 2018 budget request providing $200 billion in federal spending as a way of incentivizing $800 billion in private investments for large-scale projects. Trump’s infrastructure plan said that restrictions on tolling interstate highways impedes public and private investment in such facilities.

“Some of the money would come from the sale of public assets and the remainder will be a combination of partnerships and cooperations between public and private sector, and through leveraging up the use of federal dollars,” Chao explained, as several Democrats pushed back on the plan.

The funding leaders, led by Democrats, also took issue with the administration’s intention to eliminate funding for Obama-era infrastructure grants, which have been used to boost rural, freight, and transit projects since 2009. Chao explained the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program would be rolled into another funding system at the U.S. DOT under the administration’s fiscal 2018 funding proposal.

Key lawmakers pointed out President Donald Trump had pledged to have a funding plan for infrastructure projects during his first 100 days in office. They shot down the notion private funding would address massive funding backlogs for bridges, tunnels, airports and other programs.

Representatives from rural districts claim if the White House relies on tolls to generate capital for projects, their roadways would not be ideal.