WASHINGTON— Mayors have expressed concern over the future of federal funding programs with regard to how the White House plans to fund the $1 trillion infrastructure investment it hopes to reap over the next 10 years.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said he has a lot of questions about the funding mechanisms that will be outlined in the forthcoming infrastructure bill.
The mayor’s concern stems in part from White House Infrastructure Policy Adviser D.J. Gribbin’s announcement that President Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan will not propose a new source of revenue, but will instead repurpose some federal dollars.
“[We’ll] keep, for the most part, existing programs in place. There are reductions, as you know in last year’s budget, when it comes to Amtrak, mass transit [and] a number of programs,” Gribbin said at the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ winter meeting Jan. 25. “We will propose repurposing those dollars. What we’re not proposing is eliminating the Highway Trust Fund or the State Revolving Fund. We do want to repurpose some dollars.”
Hancock cited a particular fear for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants, which offer $500 million in discretionary grants for state and local governments.
Many cities, including Denver, have seen the benefits of TIGER grants while conducting infrastructure projects. For example, Colorado DOT used a TIGER grant to add high-occupancy toll lanes to a stretch of U.S. Route 36 between Boulder and Denver in 2012.
Hancock said he and his fellow mayors need to press further to learn more details about the administration’s proposed plan.
“I was concerned about a lot of things [Gribbin] did say and a lot of things he didn’t say. We’ve got to dig deeper in terms of what they’re going to do, how they’re going to pay for these things and make sure there is not a negative to cities while they’re trying to work to support infrastructure investment,” Hancock said. “My concern is we’ll ultimately, as cities, lose efforts and programs that have been valuable to helping us build our infrastructure.”
Like Hancock, J. Christian Bollwage, mayor of Elizabeth, N.J., expressed concern about losing TIGER grants. Bollwage said he has more faith in Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and other members of Congress than he does in the president when it comes to passing an infrastructure bill.
“I believe when D.J. Gribbin talks about repurposing funds, he means the elimination of TIGER grants. He’s just not going to tell a room full of mayors he’s going to eliminate TIGER grants,” Bollwage said. “I believe if we’re going to get a bill on infrastructure that meets the needs of the cities, we need to work with the Congress, because I don’t think we’re going to get it from the White House.”
Gribbin said the Trump administration is the first since the Clinton administration that has not supported or opposed a fuel tax.
In addition to supporting a trillion-dollar infrastructure investment, the infrastructure plan also will result in a shortened permitting process, Gribbin said. He said the White House will release details on the long-awaited infrastructure plan to members of Congress a week or two after the State of the Union address, which is scheduled for Jan. 30.
“We’re most excited about opportunities when it comes to permit approvals,” Gribbin said. “The president has been very clear that he does not want to have greater environmental damage, but there’s no reason we can’t analyze a project, mitigate appropriately and get it all done in a two-year window.”