APA Statement on Trump Administration's Infrastructure Plan

Dear Member of Congress:

The nation’s infrastructure is the backbone of our economy and our communities. More than just defining our built environment, infrastructure affects the daily well-being, quality of life and access to opportunity for everyone. Planning plays a critical role on infrastructure issues, and planners have long recognized the importance of this issue. APA has made smart investment in infrastructure a top policy priority. It is, in this context, that we welcome the focus on infrastructure from Congress and the Trump administration. It is time for the nation to address this critical challenge.

The release last week of the Trump administration’s FY 2019 budget proposal and infrastructure plan, as well as the decision to include additional infrastructure spending in the new FY 2018 budget caps, mark an important milestone in this debate. I write today to outline APA’s views and suggest key policies needed to craft infrastructure legislation that will truly benefit the nation’s communities.

The administration’s proposal is a welcome catalyst for moving the debate forward on Capitol Hill. APA appreciates the bipartisan interest in addressing our critical infrastructure needs. While recent steps mark progress, the infrastructure plan as presented falls far short of meeting the nation’s needs. There are important changes needed to deliver the kind of policy and funding required to strengthen communities, spur economic prosperity and support investments in access and opportunity.

Provide New Investment, Net Increase in Federal Funding

When considered in conjunction with the latest budget proposal, it is clear the administration’s goal is to off-set any new investment with cuts to existing infrastructure programs. This approach will not meet today’s infrastructure needs and challenges. A key premise of any new legislation must be achieving a net increase in federal infrastructure investment. Cuts to existing programs will only further undermine efforts to repair and maintain existing infrastructure while limiting new investment. Slashing existing resources in hopes of promoting future investment is not the way forward, especially for areas and projects not likely to attract private investment.

Support the Federal-State-Local Partnership

We agree that states and communities have shown remarkable leadership in raising dedicated revenues for infrastructure. And, we place great value on the partnership among federal, state and local governments. So, there is promise in the idea of additional federal grants to support local and state action. However, the current proposal undermines the partnership by unacceptably shifting too much of the funding burden to communities. These communities are already shouldering a larger, and growing, share of infrastructure funding responsibilities. A 20 percent federal share cap is too low and inconsistent with historic infrastructure program standards. With this proposal, too many communities won’t be able to access potential benefit and will be unable to advance projects or address the full array of infrastructure needs.

Equally important is taking the value, impact and performance of projects into account in evaluation criteria. The administration’s proposal would significantly underweight these elements. The right infrastructure investments are just as important as more infrastructure investments. Federal policy changes give us a chance to build communities and projects. This can be done by appropriately weighing impact and performance while insisting on co-benefits from investment. As federal policy places more responsibilities on local communities, those same places must be given a stronger role in decision making.

Ensure Sustainable Transportation Funding

Federal action should also at long last solve the problem of the long-term sustainability of infrastructure investments through the Highway Trust Fund. The recently enacted tax legislation was a missed opportunity to provide steady infrastructure funding. All sides agree that the current gas tax funded system is insufficient to meet our needs. Congress should shore up the gas tax in the short term with an increase and index the user fee to inflation. At the same time, lawmakers should create a clear path for transitioning to a new model that recognizes the impact of today’s transportation realities. The President’s recent openness to a gas tax increase is a positive step towards a bipartisan consensus. We agree that new and expanded financing options are important, but we must also preserve and improve the tools we already have while ensuring that all communities have access to funding and finance.

Invest in Public Transportation

Communities across the nation are increasingly looking to expand and improve access to public transportation options. Transit is not just a mobility tool; increasingly, it is an essential economic development strategy. The current plan does too little to boost transit investment and includes policies that could actually limit public transportation projects. We should build on successful existing programs while expanding new opportunities for investment. The principle of a fair share of federal investment for transit has been a hallmark of transportation legislation and funding since the Reagan administration. Good infrastructure legislation must acknowledge the federal-state-local partnership in adequately supporting public transportation.

Boost Finance Tools and Planning for Innovation

Increasing opportunities for private investment, bolstering financing tools, and maximizing limited resources are important objectives for infrastructure policy. APA has previously supported tools like TIFIA, WIFIA, and water infrastructure loan funds. Additionally, we argued strongly for preserving Private Activity Bonds during the tax reform debate. Boosting the effectiveness and investment capacity of these tools is a positive step. At the same time, we want to ensure that new private investment advances the public interest.

Support All Critical Infrastructure

We also urge Congress to consider similar financing tools that could support other kinds of critical infrastructure needs, such as affordable housing, community development, community parks and the implementation of smart and connected infrastructure needed to support new technologies and innovation. Helping communities plan and design for autonomous vehicles and other new approaches to mobility and access is an important need that should also be part of federal infrastructure policy.

Last year, APA adopted a set of principles that we believe should guide and inform new federal infrastructure policies. These ideas will help ensure that new investment is wise investment and that the critical partnerships are strengthened. These principles also note that while we can improve our review and permitting process, protecting our environment need not be at odds with addressing our infrastructure. We believe that good infrastructure policy and planning can meet a range of today’s most pressing needs. From boosting our economy to expanding equity and access to opportunity, infrastructure can be, indeed must be, a critical tool.

We appreciate the bipartisan interest in infrastructure and the willingness of Congress to engage on this vital topic. It is, rightfully, a priority issue for all of us. We look forward to continuing to work with Congress on crafting policy that will strengthen the nation and our communities.

Thank you for your service.

Best regards,

Cynthia Bowen, AICP
President, American Planning Association