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Arkansas Governor to Feds: ‘Listen to the States’ on Trillion-Dollar Infrastructure Package

WASHINGTON – Arkansas Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson told PJM that the Trump administration’s proposed $1 trillion infrastructure plan would be different than former President Obama’s $831 billion stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The Democratic Congress in 2009 passed the ARRA, which was originally estimated to cost $787 billion. The Obama administration predicted that the unemployment rate would not rise above 8 percent under the ARRA. GOP leaders criticized the bill for failing to deliver on that promise.

In 2010, Obama said the infrastructure projects in the ARRA were not as “shovel-ready” as he expected. “There’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects,” he said.

Hutchinson said the ARRA included spending projects that didn’t create jobs.

“It’s good news when you are talking about an infrastructure plan. I think the distinction between what this administration wants to do and the previous administration was to spend money, and not just infrastructure projects but broad spending programs that were not creating jobs, and the preference was if you’re just going to try put more money in people’s pockets give tax credits – that’s more of the Republican view on it,” Hutchinson said during an interview last weekend at the National Governors Association winter meeting.

“Now when you are talking about infrastructure, though, there’s two things that are important: one is that you have an infrastructure plan that might have federal priorities on it, but the second one is if you’re going to expand highway development in the United States it needs to be done through the states. And so that’s the partnership we’ve had historically, and that’s what we hope the president will continue,” he added.

Hutchinson was asked if he would like the Trump administration and Congress to work with states to complete the projects they identify rather than pass a single package costing up to $1 trillion. He urged the Trump administration and Congress to “listen to states” when it comes to passing infrastructure legislation.

“We have, historically, our federal excise tax that’s collected and sent back to the states and the state sets the priorities for the highway plans because no one knows more about it than the states do – but there are, obviously, some national projects that go through. For example, our major interstate connectors go from the north to the south, and Arkansas is an area that needs to be connected because it will link our country again, so there are some projects,” he replied.

“I want the federal government to listen to the states in terms of priorities but let’s just wait and see what kind of package comes out. There’s a lot of different possibilities, you know, we’ve been asked as governors to submit our priorities, we’ve done that, but we don’t know whether it’s going to be a very small list of national priorities or a larger partnership with the states where money goes back and we help set those priories,” he added. “Let’s wait and see.”

During his joint address to Congress, Trump said he plans to ask Congress for a public and private infrastructure investment plan of $1 trillion.

“To launch our national rebuilding, I will be asking the Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in the infrastructure of the United States – financed through both public and private capital – creating millions of new jobs,” Trump said.

The Washington Post reported that governors have submitted at least 428 projects to the Trump administration.

Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin said now is the time to fix America’s “somewhat ailing” infrastructure.

“Everyone likes them a little infrastructure. I mean, you think about this and who doesn’t?” Bevin said. “We have a somewhat ailing infrastructure. The time has come for us to address this. We have spent an inordinate amount of money globally building infrastructure and rebuilding infrastructure in places where, frankly, we’re not exactly welcomed or appreciated.”

“So I think there are a lot of folks that say, why don’t we think about deploying some of those same types of dollars back into our own nation in our own infrastructure?” he added. “So that’s what we’ll be seeing. I take comfort in the fact that we have thoughtful people leading the charge.”

Bevin praised Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who is from Kentucky, for her experience and intellect. He predicted that she would be “very effective” in her new role.

“I look forward to working with her as we address infrastructure in the heart of America, which is where we are. Highways 71, 64, 75 and 65 all intersect right through one single city in our state, and so you think about it, we have a whole lot of reasons to care about getting this right,” he said.