$1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan Could Slip to 2018: Thune

By Shaun Courtney

President Donald Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure proposal could slip to next year, Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said.

Competing priorities like health care and a tax overhaul could crowd out the president’s promised investment in the country’s aging infrastructure, he told reporters May 10.

Thune is the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference and No. 3 in the GOP’s leadership.

“The administration is saying they want to do infrastructure outside of tax reform, so it could be something that gets pushed,” Thune said.

Investing in the nation’s infrastructure has been a policy priority for Trump both as a candidate and as president. Trump has said he wants $200 billion in infrastructure spending with matching funds from state, local and private partners to reach a $1 trillion investment over 10 years. Unlike the contentious repeal of the Affordable Care Act that the Senate is working on, infrastructure is a policy area where Democrats have suggested they might be able to collaborate with the president.

It is possible the administration could try to “wedge” an infrastructure plan between the health-care bill and a tax revamp, Thune noted.

“It just looks to me like things are getting stacked up pretty quickly,” Thune said.

FAA Bill Might Go to Floor in July

The Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization could come to the Senate floor in July, Thune noted. The current FAA authority expires at the end of fiscal year 2017.

Whether a full reauthorization or merely an extension will be considered is still up in the air and depends largely on the House’s and Senate’s ability to come to terms on what the bill should entail.

“It would be nice to get an authorization, but there are some pretty big issues that we have to grapple with,” Thune said.

The most significant point of contention is a proposal championed by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) to strip the air traffic control function from the FAA and privatize it. Shuster’s previous efforts to privatize ATC during reauthorization talks failed.

Shuster’s committee is holding a hearing on the FAA on May 17.

Thune said any changes to ATC would not come from the Senate and that his colleagues in the House would have to lead the way.

Limits to Public-Private Partnership

Trump has said he wants to partner with private investors to leverage a $200 billion federal investment to reach $1 trillion in infrastructure funding. Public-private partnerships bring in private investors to fund design, construction and maintenance for projects like roads and bridges in exchange for a revenue stream like tolls.

Thune said the administration’s enthusiasm for such a funding structure could help identify alternative funding sources in highly populated states and regions where returns on private investment are more easily achieved.

“But there are areas of the country where that doesn’t work and you’re going to have to take, I think, a more conventional, traditional approach to infrastructure to get people from rural states on board,” Thune said.

Conversations about funding, investment priorities and other specifics of the infrastructure bill are happening among senators’ staffs and the administration, he said.

“The timing is still kind of an open question, I think,” Thune said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shaun Courtney in Washington at scourtney@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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