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FEBRUARY 1, 2018
Meyerson on TAP
When is a commitment of $1.3 trillion worth precisely zero? When Donald Trump makes it in his State of the Union address.
On Tuesday night, Trump promised that he’d put before Congress a massive investment in infrastructure, to the tune of $1.5 trillion. What he neglected to say was that just $200 billion of that would actually be federal dollars. The balance would be funds that he hoped—if conditions were right, if the wind was from the east, if the weather was sunny and the creek didn’t rise—would come from state and local governments and private investors. That is, from sources the federal government does not control.
Traditionally, the federal government has picked up the lion’s share of infrastructure spending—and since that hasn’t amounted to all that much in recent decades, we have some of the industrialized world’s worst roads, rails, and airports to show for it. State and local governments, which often have limited bonding capacity and which can’t run deficits (unlike the feds), have seldom been able to pick up as much as half the cost of such projects, even during these decades when those projects have been too few and far between.
For a number of months, however, the word in Washington was that Trump’s administration would pony up no more than 20 percent of the trillion dollars it was touting. In the SOTU, however, that trillion magically grew to a trillion and a half, while the federal commitment remained anchored at $200 million, which would come to 13-and-a-third percent of the newly enlarged commitment.
So why stop there? Since the federal share won’t go any higher than that $200 mill, why not pledge a $5 trillion infrastructure project? A $10 trillion project? Once you begin taking credit for projects to be funded (or not) by other people’s money, resulting from other people’s autonomous decisions, there’s a whole lot you can take credit for. Why not take credit not just for the federal tax cut but for state and local tax cuts, too? Trump has gone beyond the doctrine of l’état c’est moi. L’état plus the 50 little états and Lord knows how many cities, counties and private investors—they’re all, as Trump sees them, moi, aussi. ~ HAROLD MEYERSON


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