The Trump administration, determined to overhaul and modernize the nation’s infrastructure, is drafting plans to privatize some public assets such as airports, bridges, highway rest stops and other facilities, according to top officials and advisers.
In his proposed budget released Tuesday, President Trump called for spending $200 billion over 10 years to “incentivize” private, state and local spending on infrastructure.
Trump advisers said that to entice state and local governments to sell some of their assets, the administration is considering paying them a bonus. The proceeds of the sales would then go to other infrastructure projects. Australia has pursued a similar policy, which it calls “asset recycling,” prompting the 99-year lease of a state-owned electrical grid to pay for improvements to the Sydney Metro, among other projects.
In the United States, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) explored privatizing Midway International Airport several years ago but dropped the idea in 2013, after a key bidder backed away. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao says such projects should be encouraged.
“You take the proceeds from the airport, from the sale of a government asset, and put it into financing infrastructure,” Chao said. St. Louis is working with federal officials to try to privatize Lambert International Airport, she said.
Officials are crafting President Trump’s initiative, and he has yet to decide which ideas will make the final cut. But two driving themes are clear: Government practices are stalling the nation’s progress; and private companies should fund, build and run more of the basic infrastructure of American life.
A far-reaching proposal from the Trump administration earlier this year to take the nation’s air-traffic control system out of government hands was fueled, in part, by frustration at sluggish efforts to modernize technology.
To speed up infrastructure projects, officials are preparing to overhaul the federal environmental review and permitting system, which they blame for costly delays. Trump asked advisers whether they could collapse that process, which he said takes at least 10 years, down to four months. “But we’ll be satisfied with a year,” Trump said. “It won’t be more than a year.”
In a bid for broader support, Trump and some of his advisers have also signaled an openness to raising the gas tax to pay for needed projects. The 18.4-cent-per gallon levy is the federal government’s main source of highway funds and was last raised in 1993.
The infrastructure initiative is being shaped by White House officials and a task force representing 16 federal departments and agencies. In addition, there is a committee of outside advisers co-chaired by billionaire developer Richard LeFrak, a Trump friend.
LeFrak said the administration’s effort, which is being led by Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, Chao and others, is a sweeping attempt to rethink how the nation’s infrastructure gets built. LeFrak said the issues are intensely personal for Trump, who spent his career in real estate and sees this as an area where he can make a lasting impact.