On April 22, Senate Republicans released their infrastructure framework, “The Republican Roadmap: A Framework to Improve the Nation’s Infrastructure (Roadmap).” A counterproposal to the Biden Administration’s “American Jobs Plan (AJP),” the outline envisions investing $568 billion over five years to make improvements and enhancements to assets traditionally defined as infrastructure, including transportation and water systems. The proposal represents a 75 percent decrease from the spending levels proposed in the AJP and significantly narrows the sectors that would receive funds. This is largely due to the Roadmap’s closer adherence to reauthorizations for transportation and water programs than that of the stimulus package proposed in the AJP. View NACo’s executive summary of the AJP here.
The Roadmap defines infrastructure as surface transportation, airports, ports and inland waterways, drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, water storage, safety and broadband and provides the following funding levels for each:
- Surface Transportation: $380 billion
- Roads & Bridges: $299 billion
- Transit: $61 billion
- Rail: $20 billion
- Safety: $13 billion
- Airports: $44 billion
- Ports & Inland Waterways: $17 billion
- Broadband: $65 billion
- Drinking Water & Wastewater: $35 billion
- Water Storage: $14 billion
While no additional distribution details are provided, the Roadmap would generally fund three infrastructure sectors: transportation, water and broadband. 80 percent of spending in the Roadmap would be directed toward all modalities of transportation versus the 27 percent proposed in the AJP. The AJP did not exclusively mention any funding for U.S. Department of Transportation’s safety sub-administrations that include the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Pipelines and Hazardous Material Administration, and the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration, while the Roadmap would invest a total of $13 billion across the three sub-administrations. The most notable difference in transportation spending between the two, however, is the Roadmap’s reliance on baseline spending with little supplemental investments proposed in the plan.
Assuming funding is over five years, the AJP and the Roadmap both propose extra spending for investments in:
- The Roadmap would invest 35 percent less than the AJP in broadband deployment.
Counties urge Congress to work with local officials when drafting legislation that would encourage the use of state or county owned land, including public rights-of-way, to build new wireless infrastructure including fifth (5G) wireless networks, to expand service to rural areas or to promote digital equity.
- The Roadmap would direct roughly 68 percent less funding to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address the needs of drinking water and wastewater systems than the AJP.
- The AJP does not include any funds for the Bureau of Reclamation to improve water storage system infrastructure, while the Roadmap would direct $14 billion for this purpose.
- The Roadmap also proposes $14 billion for new dams, which are left unaddressed by the AJP.
Counties urge Congress to provide a reliable, long-term, substantially increased federal investment in water infrastructure, watershed protection and the protection of water resources and facilities from physical and chemical security threats.
- Examining differences between proposed additional spending levels for roads and bridges, public transit, passenger rail, safety and airports, the Roadmap would direct 61.7 percent less than the AJP to these modes of transportation.
- The Roadmap proposes 66 percent less for roads and bridges.
- The Roadmap proposes spending 109 percent less on public transit and would actually decrease current spending by roughly $8 billion over five years.
- The Roadmap proposes 93.75 percent less for rail than the AJP.
- Both parties’ proposals would invest the same amount ($17 billion) in ports and inland waterways, as well as airports ($25 billion).
Democratic & Republican Infrastructure Proposals
AJP vs. Roadmap Transportation Funds (numbers in billions)
Counties urge Congress to provide increased direct funding for locally owned infrastructure; streamline the federal permitting process; and return solvency to the Highway Trust Fund in any upcoming infrastructure package or surface transportation reauthorization.
Congressional Republicans’ priorities for federal programs and policies include avoiding “one-size-fits-all” requirements for infrastructure; streamlining the federal permitting process; reducing regulations; and encouraging innovation. Counties continue to count streamlining the federal permitting process and reducing regulatory burdens as top priorities for infrastructure and urge lawmakers to realize the benefit that would result from more timely review processes and commonsense federal regulations. Local governments agree that a blanket approach to the nation’s infrastructure needs is not the answer, and instead, that the federal government should provide maximum flexibility when administering transportation and infrastructure funds.
In addition to the top-level numbers and infrastructure philosophies identified in the Roadmap, it also lays out Republican principles for paying for the $568 billion investment. While the Republican proposal does not contain specific details, no part of its spending would be offset by corporate tax increases, a major contrast to the AJP, which proposes raising the rate from 21 percent to 28 percent.
Instead, the proposal suggests the Roadmap should be fully paid for without increasing the national debt by:
- Requiring state and local matches and encouraging public-private partnerships
- Shoring up the Highway Trust Fund (HTF)
- Ensuring EV users contribute to the HTF
- Preserving the Trump Administration’s 2017 tax cuts, including extending the cap on the state and local tax deduction
- Repurposing unspent funds disbursed under previous federal COVID-19 relief packages
The last two bullets are a concern for counties who face hundreds of billions of dollars in budgetary shortfalls in FY 2021 alone as a result of our frontline response to the ongoing global health pandemic. Counties are opposed to any future legislation that would place additional parameters around much-needed COVID relief dollars for local governments. Additionally, relying on public-private partnerships is simply not possible for all counties, who may be unable to attract the interest of private industry. Counties urge Congress to provide additional funding and financing tools, like P3s, though not at the expense of direct federal funding streams for local infrastructure. The proposal’s recommendation to extend the cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions is also opposed by counties, who view these deductions as protections for individuals from double taxation and a bedrock principle of the federal income tax system.
Finally, while mentioned as a goal of the package, it remains unclear how Republicans would address the looming FY 2022 insolvency of the HTF. The HTF is funded by user fees, indicating that there may be willingness amongst some of the party to increase the federal tax on motor fuels, increase taxes on heavy trucks and/or implement a new vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fee to provide additional revenue for the ailing trust fund. All would be difficult paths forward for Congressional Republicans, who – under any scenario – would likely meet opposition to all three options by various members of their party. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have expressed support for a transition to VMT.
Highway Trust Fund
Highway Account, FY 2020 – FY 2030 (in billions of dollars)
*FY 2020 is actual. **In FY 2022, the HTF is projected to officially become insolvent.
Source: Congressional Budget Office
The proposal’s introduction is the logical next step in the negotiation process surrounding infrastructure legislation, though it is viewed by many as far short of the level of investment that is needed. Counties agree that local infrastructure needs are tremendous and that continuing to provide flat federal investments will not enhance the ability of state and local governments to carry out critical projects. For this reason and many others, the Roadmap has already been labeled dead-on-arrival by Democrats, who control both chambers of Congress and the White House. While their majorities are narrow in both the House and the Senate, Democrats can discard the Roadmap and pass AJP legislation without the support of any Republicans via budget reconciliation. The potential for a bipartisan path forward remains a possibility, however, with both sides of the aisle looking for a compromise that will address the needs of traditional infrastructure. Both the House and Senate are expected to begin releasing surface transportation legislation in May, and Speaker Pelosi has vowed to move a comprehensive infrastructure package by July 4th. The current surface transportation law, P.L. 114-94, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, will expire on September 30, 2021. View NACo’s FAST Act 101 for counties here.Standard