The incoming Trump Administration has an opportunity to innovate and implement new ideas across many levels and departments of the federal government. A more efficient and effective approach to upgrading the nation’s infrastructure will be one of them. The old ways have been tried so many times, and despite the excessive cost to taxpayers, they haven’t worked.
In the past, the “public works” (as they called it) part of the budget was seen as a golden opportunity for patronage to cronies and payroll for pals. So much of the money directed to infrastructure projects became the subject of waste, fraud and, abuse. Donald Trump ran on a strong promise to “drain the swamp” and reform government, and it is likely we will see new ideas under the administration’s infrastructure plan.
In taking a hard look at our infrastructure reality, Michael Sargent suggests in a research paper published by The Heritage Foundation titled “Building on Victory: An Infrastructure Agenda for the New Administration” to consider the “real infrastructure needs, not hyperbolic rhetoric.” While the crumbling of our infrastructure has been vastly exaggerated by some, Sargent notes, the percentage of our nation’s bridges deemed structurally deficient is now at 10 percent, less than half of what that figure was 25 years ago. Overall, he details that the U.S. ranks among the top for infrastructure quality among G-7 nations. There are, however, areas that can and should be improved through ideas like reducing red tape, suspending Davis-Bacon, narrowing greenhouse gas emission analysis, and moving towards public-private partnerships.
In the realm of aviation infrastructure, there are some excellent opportunities to improve air travel and to Make Air Travel Great Again. It is a service industry that has gone backwards over the past 20 years with run down airports and the airlines treating people like they are cattle to be herded into cramped airplanes.
Our airports are also a part of the infrastructure that needs improvement, there are currently no U.S. airports ranked among the top 25 in the world. The current system of airport funding is inefficient, the Airport Improvement Program should be eliminated along with the related taxes. Airports should be funded via user fees which can be budgeted and spent by the airports, free of micromanagement by the federal government. This will allow the airports to be run like businesses. Along with this, providing of Air Traffic Control should be privatized, along with the repeal of aviation taxes.
Our Open Skies Agreements with other countries pose another opportunity to Make Air Travel Great Again. With the improvements in our airports, President Trump can use his negotiating abilities to bring the hold-out countries, including China, Hong Kong, and Russia, among others.
Attracting more travel to the U.S., including expanding the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to attract more visitors, is a key area of potential economic growth. For instance, in 2009, 1.2 million Americans visited China while only 500,000 Chinese, out of a population of 1.33 billion, visited the United States. Millions more visiting from China and other countries, paying user fees for using our airports, would help expand our economy while funding the much-needed improvements in our airports.
Donald Trump could say he’s going to improve our airports and build bigger and better ones while making them pay for it, and fulfill such a promise. By expanding the VWP via the Open Skies Agreements, President Trump can both improve our airports and help grow the economy at the same time.
The federal government has taken on a very broad role in infrastructure funding, which should be scaled back and more clearly defined. As Sargent notes, “The federal government is now involved in funding transcontinental highways, local roads, streetcars, bike sharing programs, sidewalks, and everything in between, often with little justification for federal involvement. The new Administration should establish a clear definition of the federal role, with defined boundaries and goals to which a federal program can be held accountable.” The same goes for aviation, because the funding for airport improvements could also be vastly improved.
And Sargent recommends a number of things the new administration should not do, which have been ineffective in the past, such as the massive stimulus spending bills in the name of infrastructure, or using repatriated revenues to fund new infrastructure spending, creating new federal tax credits for infrastructure projects, or creating an infrastructure bank.
We have an opportunity for bold and innovative ideas, that take us in a very new direction under the Trump Administration, who was elected to reform government in general. Our infrastructure policy is one of many areas where true government reform can be achieved, and the American people will truly see the change they voted for in November of this year on Election Day.