Connecting state and local government leaders
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told mayors she’s “optimistic” about bipartisan infrastructure legislation that avoids financially burdening cities.
WASHINGTON — More than a year after President Trump vowed to make infrastructure investment a major priority, mayors convened here from around the country and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said they would like to see a package actually move forward.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors unveiled the group’s particular wishlist, including transportation dollars controlled by local governments instead of state agencies. For her part, Pelosi told assembled city leaders that infrastructure is one area where she and Trump, currently locked in daily political battles over the partial government shutdown, could possibly find some common ground.
Talk of a big federal investment in infrastructure, long touted by members of Congress and Trump, has been typically met with eye rolls of late around D.C. But some have revived the issue, with both key Republicans and Democrats on the Hill telling Roll Call they would like to see the president again push the issue.
“We know that you are ready to stop talking and start digging,” Pelosi said during her address. “We want to see dirt fly is what we want to see when we allocate these resources, and I’m optimistic because one subject that I have some common ground with the president on is the subject of infrastructure. Maybe 80 percent of the conversations I’ve had with him since his election have been about infrastructure.”
Steve Benjamin, the mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, and president of the mayor’s organization, said the group has a 10-year infrastructure proposal for Congress that starts with directing $400 billion in additional transportation funding locally.
Benjamin said mayors want Congress to secure and grow the Highway Trust Fund, ensure localities see more funding via the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program, invest $35 billion in airports through the Airport Improvement Program, and spend down more than $12 billion in Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund balances.
Aside from transportation, the other four pillars of the mayors’ plan are water, energy, community infrastructure, and tax incentives.
“We all need our federal leaders to come together and get something passed now so that we can address our nation’s mounting infrastructure needs,” Benjamin said.
USCM intends to ask for $125 billion to modernize water and wastewater systems: $92 billion in state revolving fund grants while eliminating the local-state matching fund requirement, $12 billion for cybersecurity and resiliency, and $21 billion to erase the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project backlog.
They additionally suggest that $50 billion be made available by reactivating the Energy Efficiency & Conservation Block Grant Program for projects ranging from energy retrofits of public buildings to LED lighting and solar energy systems.
Increasing Community Development Block Grant funding by $100 billion would “spur more neighborhood projects,” Benjamin said, and $10 billion to clean up brownfields—sites of industrial contamination—would help with redevelopment.
Mayors also want Congress to revisit the tax code to restore advance refunding of tax-exempt bonds, allowing public borrowers to reinvest savings in infrastructure projects to the tune of $30 billion.
On tax credits, mayors are asking that Congress extend $137 billion in renewable energy tax credits and establish a $50 billion tax credit for energy storage systems to improve reliability and renewable energy development.
The key sticking point for any infrastructure plan will be how to pay for it. Some lawmakers have advocated raising the gas tax to shore up the highway fund, but that idea never got enough backing.
In her speech, Pelosi said that the House will support mayors’ infrastructure plans in ways that avoid shifting the burden onto city budgets—criticizing the Trump administration’s previous infrastructure proposal for placing the bulk of the burden of investment on local and state governments instead of federal funding.
Last year, after pledging a massive infrastructure plan in the State of the Union, the Trump administration eventually unveiled a proposal to tap $200 billion in federal dollars that would be matched with private, state and local money to come up with $1.5 trillion in investment over a decade. The concept never picked up steam.
In her general remarks on infrastructure, Pelosi said the House will push for supporting rural broadband and helping crumbling water systems. She also told mayors that House Democrats will move on an agenda they will want to see, promising legislation to reduce gun violence and comprehensive immigration reform that covers "Dreamers" and temporary protected status recipients.
Pelosi has also established the Select Committee on Climate, vowing action on the climate climate crisis and calling it a “public health issue.” She also touched on the housing crisis and income inequality.
“The immorality of the disparity of income in our country, it is so stunning and remarkable,” Pelosi said.
Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.