Government

Infrastructure Plan Draws Mixed Reviews

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – President Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan and 2019 budget blueprint drew mixed reviews Monday from members of Ohio’s delegation to Capitol Hill, as even members of his own party found provisions that weren’t to their satisfaction.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, said he was “troubled” by Trump’s plan to spend $200 billion dollars over the next decade to leverage an additional $1.3 trillion from state and local governments and the private sector for infrastructure projects.

“Every year, our local governments have been stretched thinner and thinner by Republican elected officials and now they want them to bear the full weight of rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure,” Ryan said.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, urged the president to work with Congress to pass bipartisan legislation to address the nation’s infrastructure needs, rather than passing the cost on to drivers, cities and communities through tax hikes and tolls, as critics of the infrastructure plan fear.

“We know Ohio communities and workers are already strapped for cash and we can’t simply pass the cost of this infrastructure investment onto drivers, cities and counties through tolls and local tax hikes,” Brown said.

Both Democrats said they were willing to work with Trump on an infrastructure plan that addresses America’s needs, but “accounting gimmicks don’t build bridges,” Brown added.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said he was hopeful that both parties would work together on the issue. He called the proposal a “good starting point” for further discussion and said he was pleased that the plan makes reforming infrastructure permitting a priority.

“By rebuilding our aging infrastructure and improving job training programs targeted toward in-demand infrastructure-related jobs, we have a great opportunity to further strengthen our economy,” Portman said.

“With a permitting process that makes sense and operates efficiently, we can put more people back to work, improve our infrastructure and better protect the environment,” he added.

U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-6 Ohio, also praised Trump’s intention to speed environmental reviews, which are “important” and need to be done but “should be done efficiently,” rather than dragging for years.

“America is long overdue for an upgrade to our outdated, and in some cases crumbling, infrastructure,” Johnson said. “I am heartened to see that a significant chunk of the money in the president’s plan would be invested in rural America. Those of us in eastern and southeastern Ohio are well aware of the many challenges we face with the condition of our bridges, roads, water systems, sewer systems and limited access to broadband.”

State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-33 Boardman, who is running for Ohio governor, said he is glad the president is discussing issues like broadband expansion and innovative technology, but was “really disappointed” in the proposal he put forth.

“It expects state and local governments to pay 4-1 what the feds put in. Our roads and bridges are crumbling because state and local governments don’t or can’t invest in infrastructure,” Schiavoni said. “This plan won’t make things any better.”

Among offices and initiatives the budget proposes to eliminate, according to the statement from Brown’s office, are the Economic Development Administration, which has provided funding for local projects, including the Youngstown Business Incubator’s fifth building; the Department of Transportation’s Tiger grant program, which the city and several partners applied for earlier this year; the Community Development Block Grant program; and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

Brown said the plan also takes away Medicaid, which the senator calls “Ohio’s number one tool in the fight against opioids,” and slashes the Office of National Drug Control Policy by $350 million; cuts the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative by $270 million and makes cuts to other clean water programs; and eliminates the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

“Instead of investing in Ohio communities so they can grow and create jobs, the President’s budget asks Ohioans to pay for tax cuts for millionaires by gutting Great Lakes programs and eliminating economic development,” Brown said. “Congress already put forward a bipartisan compromise that will make critical investments in fighting the opioid epidemic and give Ohio families and businesses the certainty they deserve. I will continue fighting for Ohio priorities as we work to implement that bipartisan compromise over the coming weeks.”

Portman also criticized the reduction in funding for the Great Lakes initiative from $300 million to $30 million in the upcoming year.

“The Great Lakes are an invaluable resource to Ohio and this initiative has been a successful public-private partnership that helps protect both our environment and our economy,” he said. “As the world’s largest freshwater body, the Great Lakes provide drinking water for 40 million people, contribute $10 billion in tourism each year and support hundreds of thousands of jobs across the region.”

The senator also announced that the president’s budget proposes $7.4 million to expand training capabilities at the Camp Ravenna Joint Military Training Center with a new automated machine gun range.

“Camp Ravenna’s strategic location in northeastern Ohio, optimal size, access to robust regional infrastructure and professional Ohio National Guard staff make the base one of the premier Army training centers in the region,” he said.

Ryan characterized the budget as “a non-starter” that would add more than $7 trillion to the national deficit over the next decade – $984 billion in the next fiscal year alone – and leave the middle class with the bill.

“The only function the president’s budget proposal serves is to remind us how completely out of whack his priorities are for the American people,” Ryan said. “I stand ready to get to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle on a realistic budget that properly funds our defense and important programs families rely on.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.