Much Talk, Less Walk
In 2015, federal politicians set aside their political differences long enough to pass the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. This represented the first comprehensive transportation spending bill passed by Congress in more than a decade, and at the time supplied hope that the bipartisan lovefest could continue such that infrastructure investment in America could be further enhanced.
The FAST Act authorized $305 billion in spending and supplied state/local policymakers and other stakeholders with some certainty for five years. Unfortunately, the last few years have not been associated with the bipartisan problem-solving that many have sought, and accordingly funding for the bill is set to expire in September 2020, just before the next presidential election.
To be sure, there has been talk about a meaningful federal infrastructure package in recent years, even before the pandemic-induced downturn ushered forth discussions of how to stimulate economic activity in the wake of massive unemployment and business failures. During his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump (R) promised to push through a $1 trillion infrastructure stimulus plan in his first year in office. The White House eventually devised and announced such a plan; one using federal tax incentives and support for public/private partnerships to promote infrastructure investment, but it never acquired sufficient political traction.
In 2019, President Trump and Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D), worked to cobble together a $2 trillion infrastructure plan that would have addressed the nation’s deteriorating roads and bridges as well as a number of other priorities. The President, however, ended negotiations after demanding an end to all investigations against him and his administration. According to news reports, Senator Schumer said “he was prepared to give Trump a 35-page plan on how to spend the roughly $2 trillion the two sides agreed to invest in infrastructure.” In any case, while the two sides seemed close to agreeing upon how to spend the money, they had not agreed upon how to pay for it.