Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao reaffirmed that DOT still expects private financing to play a role in the Administration’s infrastructure plan despite recent criticism of public-private partnerships by President Trump. Secretary Chao also said that work on an infrastructure package will not begin until after Congress works on tax reform, squashing suggestions that a tax code overhaul could be used to pay for an infrastructure package.
Although NATSO has long supported enhanced investment in surface transportation infrastructure, direct federal spending -- rather than simply private sector capital -- is necessary to do it effectively. Legislation that relies on private investment and tax credits could lead to undesirable revenue schemes, such as tolling and rest area commercialization, which NATSO strongly opposes.
"We've always said it's one financing mechanism, and we also - we want the private sector to be involved, so however way the private sector investment comes in, I think that would help us with the resource allocation issue," Secretary Chao told the D.C.-based newspaper POLITICO when asked whether the President’s recent remarks had changed the Administration's approach to an infrastructure package. Secretary Chao made similar remarks at the American Trucking Associations' annual conference and added that infrastructure would not be coupled with tax reform
Chao’s comments came just days after President Donald Trump reportedly walked back some of his previous support for public-private partnerships, noting that they don’t work in rural parts of the country.
Following an Oct. 18 meeting between President Trump and members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) was quoted in the Washington, D.C., newspaper The Hill as saying, “He did say he’s no longer excited about public-private partnerships.”
In the White House budget proposal earlier this year, the Administration said an infrastructure plan should include liberalizing tolling policy and private investment in rest areas, which NATSO strongly opposes as they would pull the rug out from under the thousands of truckstops, restaurants, convenience stores, hotels, fuel retailers that operate at the Interstate exit interchanges. Such policies would further devastate blind merchants, who operate vending machines at Interstate rest areas.
The Administration has also discussed "asset recycling," which could very easily lead to tolling and rest area commercialization. Implemented by the Australian Government, asset recycling funds new infrastructure and revitalizes existing infrastructure through the sale or lease of public assets.
Republicans are pushing to finish the work on taxes by the end of the year, which means that infrastructure could become a priority on Capitol Hill in the first quarter of 2018.
House Republicans are expected to introduce their tax reform bill on Nov.1, with a markup planned by the House Ways and Means Committee the following week. The Senate Finance Committee reportedly will begin its own markup the week of Nov. 13. The formal schedule for tax reform is expected to be announced later this week.
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