Don’t expect any movement this year on the $1 trillion infrastructure plan proposed by the Trump administration, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Luzerne) told a local group of construction professionals on Monday.
Barletta, who was among the president’s early supporters, said he is “very worried” whether Congress will be able to move ahead on the proposal, at least this year.
Lawmakers remain engrossed in other big issues, including health care, tax reform and the federal budget, while Trump has been distracted by daily headlines alleging Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race.
A member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Barletta said he believes the president is serious about making big investments in national infrastructure, but Congress is likely to stall on how to pay for the plan.
“I’m worried what is happening this year,” said Barletta, the inaugural speaker at a leadership series launched this year by the Keystone Contractors Association.
Trump has proposed spending $200 billion in federal funds over 10 years to leverage an additional $800 billion in spending by the private sector. But a detailed plan has yet to emerge from the administration.
The American Society of Civil Engineers in a recent report card gave the country’s infrastructure – its roads, bridges, sewers and pipes, among other structures – a cumulative grade of D .
Barletta sees the infrastructure plan as a way to boost productivity and create construction jobs. Barletta is a big proponent of public-private partnerships, or P3s, and spent time talking about his committee’s efforts over the last three years to save taxpayer dollars by moving federal agencies into smaller buildings as leases expire.
He said roundtables about P3s are how he met the Trump family.
“I do believe that they get it,” he said. “We have to make this investment in infrastructure.”
Barletta said increasing user fees such as the federal gas tax, which he supports, may be necessary to generate sustainable revenue for the Highway Trust Fund. The American people are OK with paying higher fees as long as they know the money is going directly to fund projects, he said.
Congress needs to pass a long-term infrastructure bill, not stopgap measures, in order give contractors greater confidence to invest and grow their companies, Barletta said.
That said, he recognizes that the job market has tightened and many construction-related companies are struggling to find skilled people. As a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, Barletta said companies need to try to reach students at younger ages and let them know about skilled trade jobs such as welder and diesel mechanic.
“A four-year college isn’t for everyone,” he said.