WASHINGTON – Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), vice ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, told PJM he would like to see Congress pass an infrastructure package of up to $3.6 trillion.
Repairing and upgrading the nation’s roads, bridges and airports was a central theme of President Trump’s presidential campaign but an infrastructure package has yet to move through Congress.
Kildee said tax reform is going to take a “long time” so he wants the GOP-led Congress to tackle infrastructure next.
“Sooner rather than later. I mean, it is the one issue of sort of the big agenda items that has the greatest likelihood of bringing Democrats and Republicans together. Taxes are going to be tough. We have to do it, but it will be tough. Obviously healthcare is really divisive; the budget itself is going to be a problem,” Kildee said during an interview with PJM after a recent congressional forum about “The Future of America’s Cities and Towns” held on Capitol Hill.
“This is one area where I think we could have gotten it done, and I don’t think that moment slips away because of what is happening right now. If the president were to pivot to infrastructure, there would be some hurdles to overcome because of the current political environment, but you would find a lot Democrats, myself included, saying OK, let’s do this,” he added.
Kildee, co-chairman of the Congressional Urban Caucus, was asked if he would support Trump’s call for a public-private partnership on infrastructure costing $1 trillion.
“I mean, I think a lot of it depends on how we define the role of the public and private sectors. When it comes to long-term permanent infrastructure, the question often comes, ‘well, who should own the asset? Who should derive benefits from the asset?’ Like, for example, are we talking about instituting toll roads or some sort of fee-based system?” he asked. “I’m a little more concerned about that, but I think there’s a very important potential role for the private sector in providing long-term capital. An infrastructure bank, for example, that could be infused with some public capital, but also be an attractive source of long-term investment for private capital. I think that has a real opportunity.”
Kildee suggested that a package totaling $3.6 trillion would best meet the nation’s infrastructure challenges.
“The reason I mention the $3 trillion or $3.6 trillion is that there’s a lot of analysis that says if we were actually going to deal with our real infrastructure deficit, that’s the number we would go to,” he said. “I think we need to force ourselves to actually deal with the problem and not start with a number and say, ‘OK we’re going to do this number.’ If we did a trillion dollars, I mean, I know these numbers are just astronomical so it’s kind of hard to put our heads around and it doesn’t solve the problem, and it creates an environment where there’s some progress but it’s not significant.”
Kildee pointed to Asia as a reason to begin spending more federal dollars on infrastructure projects.
“When we look for example at what’s happening around the world, when we look, for example, at what China’s doing, not only in China, but particularly in the Pacific region, there’s a lot of money going into infrastructure, a lot of money going into ports, and to rail and to airports – and that’s what we’re up against, that’s what we’re competing against,” he said.
“So I think the goal ought to be to start with the idea that we need to have a 21st century infrastructure system in our country, figure out what it would cost, determine whether or not we can pay for it and do as much as we can knowing that we have to believe enough in ourselves to believe that we get paid back with higher productivity and the revenues that come with that,” he added.
Kildee prefers the GOP leadership in Congress start to work with Democrats on an infrastructure package before taking on tax reform.
“We probably could walk and chew gum at the same time, but my preference would have been and still is to start with infrastructure. One of the reasons is what I worry about with tax reform – one of the ways potentially to fund a national infrastructure bank is to look at international tax reform and tax policy as it relates to offshore-held assets,” he said.
“If somehow that money gets committed or spent as an offset within tax reform, it’s not available for us. And this is where it really comes down to, where do we think we should put our focus in a way that has the best short- and long-term impact? There is an argument that tax reform does that, but I think there is a better argument that says the short-term impact on the economy would increase jobs, though, and the long-term impact on productivity is better realized in infrastructure than it is probably in any other area. That’s not to say we can’t do or we shouldn’t do tax reform, but I think the priority is for infrastructure,” he added.
Kildee predicted that comprehensive tax reform is going to be an intensive, time-consuming process.
“I think it’s just going to be a really hard issue to do, because the thing about tax reform – I know everybody who looks at it closely comes to understand that the tax code does two things at least, two really big things: one, it raises revenue for the federal government. The second, probably more significant thing it does, it incentivizes private behavior of all sorts and kinds, research and development, exploration, homeownership, charitable giving,” he said.
“I mean, all those aspects of the code that are really embedded in the way American society and the American economy really works. It’s like a game of Whac-A-Mole: it makes it really hard to actually get it done. Not that we shouldn’t do it, but I think it’s going to take a long time.”