EAST HARTFORD, CT — U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy expressed cautious optimism Monday about President-elect Donald Trump’s proposal to spend $1 trillion on improving America’s roads, bridges, and transportation systems.
“There is immense potential here because these infrastructure projects are key to our economy,” Blumenthal said as he stood on an unfinished portion of the Route 2 overpass to downtown Hartford.
However, there’s also “danger in the details,” Blumenthal said. “The danger is that these projects will be a Trojan horse for tax breaks and giveaways to investors who simply get those tax credits to invest in projects they’re already doing.”
He said what’s important is how they get to the trillion. The 10-page plan Trump released a few weeks before the election would offer $167 billion in federal tax credits to private investors who want to back transportation projects. To encourage investment, the proposal says the government would provide a tax credit equal to 82 percent of the equity amount to unleash the $1 trillion in infrastructure investments over 10 years.
“It’s a fantasy,” Blumenthal said. “It won’t happen.”
Murphy said Connecticut’s “economic salvation” relies on its ability to move goods in and out of the state.
In the short term it puts construction workers to work, but in the long run these types of investments attract companies and workers who want to be here, Murphy said.
“They know the quality of life here has no rival. What they worry about is their ability to get in and out of Connecticut,” Murphy said.
Blumenthal said they need to make sure the projects are new projects that create new jobs and drive the economy forward. He said it’s a concept that has bipartisan support, but Trump will still have to convince the conservative wing of the Republican Party.
Trump also will lose Democratic support if he changes how labor is treated.
Carpenters Local 210 President Glenn Marshall asked Blumenthal and Murphy if they would support Trump’s plan if he signs an executive order banning Davis-Bacon prevailing wage laws for publicly funded construction projects.
“Construction jobs are some of the most dangerous jobs,” Marshall said. “These workers deserve to get paid well.”
Blumenthal said that’s the “devil in these details.”
He said Connecticut’s entire delegation would fight any effort to roll back progress on prevailing wage or collective bargaining laws.
The Davis-Bacon Act requires contractors to pay their workers the local prevailing wage under public works contracts with the federal government. If none of the money came from the federal government, then Davis-Bacon laws would not apply.
Trump has said he wants to approve an infrastructure proposal within the first 100 days of his administration.
“We will be there to work with him, if he is sincere in wanting to put people to work to build roads and bridges. If he wants to help us rebuild Connecticut’s infrastructure. We won’t be there for him if this is simply a scheme to make Wall Street rich,” Murphy said. “You cannot toll your way to economic prosperity.”
Murphy said some of the proposal would seek to establish tolls to pay back private investors for making the initial investment in the project.
Murphy and Blumenthal believe public money should play a part in improving infrastructure that’s supposed to benefit the public. Murphy said there should be equal parts public investment and private investment.