AASHTO Journal

White House Plans Aug. 30 Meeting on Infrastructure With State DOTs, Others

The White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs has scheduled an Aug. 30 event with state and local officials – including heads of department of transportation – to discuss the Trump administration's infrastructure investment ideas.

"The purpose of this event," said the invitation, "will be to underscore the need for a different approach, outline our draft guiding principles, and allow you all to brainstorm actions to help carry this conversation on the need for change and the opportunity to empower state and local leaders back to your states and communities."

It said participants at the afternoon program will join in a discussion with members of the President's National Economic Council, Special Assistant to the President for Infrastructure D.J. Gribbin, and "special guests including senior White House staff and Cabinet members," among them Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.

capitol0816.jpgThe invitation comes after months in which the administration has held meetings but has yet to unveil a detailed infrastructure proposal or said how it would pay for one. President Trump in his 2018 budget plan proposed $200 billion of direct federal infrastructure spending over 10 years, with the goal of using it to leverage an additional $800 billion in state, local and private investment.

However, Trump also proposed cutting USDOT funding and popular programs that include TIGER infrastructure grants that Congress continues to fund each year, and the Essential Air Service program that subsidizes commercial air travel to and from rural airports that would otherwise not be able to draw commercial air service.

The Aug. 30 event could give the administration an opportunity to build momentum for an infrastructure plan before Congress returns Sept. 5 from its summer recess.

However, lawmakers will have a packed agenda as they try to pass spending bills, raise the debt ceiling and reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration before a Sept. 30 deadline. And this fall congressional leaders hoped to take up tax cut legislation, which the administration has said will come before infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Chao discussed infrastructure issues Aug. 22 in Omaha, Neb., in meetings with Gov. Pete Ricketts, Sen. Deb Fischer, Nebraska DOT Director Kyle Schneweis and industry officials from trucking, rail, aviation and construction companies.

Fischer, who chairs the Senate Commerce Surface Transportation Subcommittee, had earlier announced that she had invited Chao to visit Nebraska for those meetings.

She and Chao co-authored a column in the Aug. 22 Omaha World-Herald that among other things said: "Rural communities are especially significant because they are the bread and butter of our nation. The U.S. Department of Transportation is putting a renewed emphasis on rural projects and infrastructure."

In a press release after the meetings, Fischer's office said she and Chao "also had the opportunity to discuss their shared commitment to long-term infrastructure policy and funding." And during the roundtable discussion with Nebraska transportation stakeholders, the senator said, "we had the opportunity to discuss several ideas to improve our nation's urban and rural transportation systems."

The administration's renewed attention to its infrastructure planning comes after President Trump this month decided to abandon efforts to form a planned 15-member Presidential Advisory Council on Infrastructure to help shape the package.

It also comes amid continued resignations by business leaders from White House councils to protest the president's remarks following recent violence in Charlottesville, Va. Roll Call reported Aug. 23 that seven of the 27 members on the National Infrastructure Advisory Council are leaving that panel in protest.

That council, which was created in 2001, says its role is to provide the president through the secretary of homeland security with "advice on the security of the critical infrastructure sectors and their information systems."

Questions regarding this article may be directed to editor@aashtojournal.org.

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