As part of a mammoth package envisioned by the Trump administration, the nation’s governors would be given $50 billion in block grants to help finance rural projects such as expansion of broadband service, said two senior White House officials. They said the block grant funding would be available on a more rapid basis than the rest of the $200 billion in federal funding that would be provided for improvements nationwide for all types of public works.
Overall, the Trump administration projects the federal funds will stimulate $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending. The federal share of 13% is expected to attract a flood of state, local, and private-sector money, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the White House’s “infrastructure principles.” Their description was more detailed than a fact sheet issued in conjunction with the State of the Union speech but left open many operational questions.
One of the White House officials said the rural funds “are advanced” and would be available sooner than the rest of the package, but he did not spell out a release schedule or say how they would be divided among states, all of which have some rural territory. The share of funds earmarked for rural America – one fourth of the federal share – was suggested by the White House last month.
The House and Senate Agriculture committees would share control with a handful of other congressional committees over the package, according to the senior officials. “They’ll have, hopefully, their own lanes,” said one of the officials, but jurisdiction may overlap in some areas.
During a briefing, the White House officials said the proposed $200 billion in direct federal spending was in line with the average federal share of public works spending, which they said was 14%. They also said the White House budget proposal for fiscal 2019 would offset the cost of the new package. Some transportation-related funding, such as transit, would be trimmed. Some state and local officials contend that the administration is providing little impetus for infrastructure improvements and, in some areas, would shoulder a smaller share of the burden. The White House officials said the infrastructure package “is a program that sits on top of other (federal) programs” that assist localities. Property taxes and user fees could be tapped to help pay the local share, they said.
Rural infrastructure is one of the four guide points of the package, said the officials. The others are stimulating $1.5 trillion in spending, job training, and speedy action on permits. The White House said it would use a “one agency, one decision” approach in which a lead agency would corral the necessary federal reviews with a goal of a decision within 21 months and final approval of permits within three months of that. A rural prosperity report commissioned by the White House gives priority to universal rural broadband as a lever for economic growth. An estimated four of 10 rural Americans lack high-speed internet access.
“We envision this will be a bipartisan push,” said one of the senior officials. The administration indicated last year that it intended to seek passage of an infrastructure package last year, but tax cuts and health care legislation prevented action.