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American Shipper

Stakeholders concerned about possible lack of P3 funding for U.S. infrastructure

Despite promises of a 10-year, $1 trillion spending plan that would be 80 percent private investment, recent comments from President Trump indicate he will no longer pursue public-private partnership funding for U.S. infrastructure projects.

   With the news coming down recently that the Trump administration could abandon the public-private partnership funding component of its $1 trillion infrastructure spending plan, a group of panelists at the annual American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) conference this week wondered what this might mean for the president’s overall infrastructure agenda and, more specifically, what it means for ports, railroads, roads and bridges, all of which are in need of some form of repair or updating.
   The White House previously promised private investors they’d be backed by federal money, but said that tax reform would come first. Final details of tax code overhaul proposal is still pending, but according to a recent report from the Chicago Tribune, Trump is said to have categorically dismissed public-private partnership (P3) infrastructure funding during a closed-door meeting with lawmakers last week, saying that the idea simply doesn’t work.
   During an Oct. 3 session on global economic trends at the AAPA conference in Long Beach, Calif., National Retail Federation (NRF) Vice President Jonathan Gold said that money is a big issue for port authorities, state transportation departments, local governments and private entities looking to prepare large-scale infrastructure projects.
   “The funding issue is really going to be the big question,” Gold said. “The president has a trillion dollar infrastructure proposal to rebuild everything. The president, who originally talked about P3s as a big part of what this is going to be, has soured on P3s.
   “I think in reference to where infrastructure is on the agenda right now, we keep hearing infrastructure’s going to be next up after tax reform. I have no idea when that’s going to happen,” he added. “[On] tax reform, they’re hoping to get a bill introduced and maybe passed by the end of this year or the early part of next year.
   “The administration laid out some initial thoughts on infrastructure this summer and we’re supposed to have a follow up with more detail in the coming days or weeks, it’s not really clear,” said Gold. “I think everyone’s anxiously awaiting to see what it’s going to be at the end of the day. We’re waiting with bated breath.”
   Another panelist, Union Pacific executive Robert Russell added that the nation’s infrastructure is definitely in need of an upgrade.
   “Our transportation system in general is in a state of ‘opportunity.’ I’ll try not to use the glass is half-empty phraseology here,” he said, drawing a few chuckles from the audience. “Be it the ports, the railroads, the truck infrastructure, our airports, any mode of transportation, there’s lots of opportunity for infrastructure.
   “I think the Trump Administration had a very bold idea in terms of [P3] funding, but now the question becomes ‘where do those funds come from?’” said Russel. “Historically, a lot of us looked at TIGER grants, the FAST program – there’s some other programs out there – but it’s very unclear right now where those fundings are going to come from. There’s a lot of very reputable economic development agencies, local governments and ports that wanna do projects, they’re just lacking the funds.
   “I’m not trying to be skeptical, I’m just trying to be realistic in terms of ‘okay, what comes next?’” Russell said. “Because there is a lot of work to do unfortunately.”
   Gold noted that there may be a silver lining in that there are politicians on both sides of the aisle that support upgrading the nation’s roads, bridges and ports.
   “I think a lot of us expect this is the one year where we can actually have bipartisanship in Congress because of infrastructure, and that’s what we’re hoping for,” he said.

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