At long last, on February 12 President Trump unveiled his plan for revitalizing America’s infrastructure. The plan has some great news for rural areas, but significant questions remain about how it would work and if it can get the votes to pass.
President Trump’s plan calls for $200 billion in additional direct Federal funding of infrastructure projects. The plan aims to “spur at least $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments” when combined with state and local contributions. Projects would not be limited to roads and bridges; many long-delayed and much-needed items would be eligible, including airports, ports and waterways, flood control, water supply projects, drinking and wastewater facilities, hydropower and broadband internet.
The best news for rural areas is that $50 billion of the total $200 billion of Federal funds would go directly to rural areas. Even better is that most of these funds would be given directly to governors and allowing them to use flexibility to decide where to spend them. The remainder would be set aside for “Rural Performance Grants” based on individual applications.
Missouri would fare very well under the formula dividing this proposed $50 billion dedicated fund, which could only be used for projects in areas with populations under 50,000. The formula would apportion funds to states based on the rural lane miles in each state. With over 64,000 rural lane miles, Missouri ranks in the top ten in the nation. Bringing these funds to Missouri with state-level control over how and where they are spent could be a game-changer for our rural areas.
In addition to these incentive funds, President Trump’s proposal would also be transformative for the permitting process. Today environmental and other permitting for projects is incredibly complicated and expensive. The full process can involve numerous agencies with competing interests and can delay project completion for years. This proposal would set up a “one agency, one decision” approval process that would centralize and streamline decision-making, with a 24-month timeline for completing the entire regulatory approval process. These changes could be every bit as transformative as the additional dollars, as they would reduce the cost of projects and incentivize towns and states to move projects forward with more certainty.
The biggest question mark on this proposal is likely in counting legislative votes. While Democrats have opposed nearly every proposal in President Trump’s first year, they will likely be pushed by labor unions to give a plan such as this strong consideration. However, some fiscal hawks in the Republican camp will balk at a stimulus plan with a huge price tag, all of which will likely have to be funded with deficit spending.
This package will be taken as welcome news to much of rural America, which has felt forgotten for so many years. Time and politics will tell if it can become law and rural areas can start moving dirt.