Would Trump’s infrastructure plan leave Louisiana out in the cold?

The Trump administration’s 10-year, $1 trillion infrastructure plan could bring a drastic policy shift that Louisiana leaders say would leave the state uniquely disadvantaged to pay for things like roads, bridges and other projects.

White House officials in recent months have spelled out some of the details of Trump’s long-touted infrastructure proposal. Of the $1 trillion, only $200 billion would come from the federal government, while $800 billion would come in the form of private investment. The White House also plans to shift away from the traditional funding formula—where the federal government pays for the bulk of state projects—and instead have states and localities put up most of the money for infrastructure projects.

“I think we are structurally disadvantaged to be nationally competitive and to take advantage of the proposed Trump package,” Shawn Wilson, Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development secretary, says.

Wilson applauds the Trump administration’s emphasis on infrastructure. At the same time, the planned shift of focus toward a competitive market for infrastructure dollars leaves Louisiana—a state with just 4.6 million people, aging roads and a $13 billion backlog in infrastructure projects—less than qualified to compete with big cities where companies can get a bigger return on their investments.

Baton Rouge and New Orleans could be poised to land some private investment for things like toll roads. Still, both cities would be competing with much larger cities across the country that are more lucrative for the private sector, Wilson says.

Exacerbating Louisiana’s problems is the fact that state lawmakers have been unable to find more money for infrastructure, despite the large backlog of capital projects. A proposal to increase the state’s gasoline tax failed in the Legislature this year.

At a White House event last week, officials told Wilson and other state leaders they planned to shift the cost burden away from the federal government and toward states. Instead of the federal government paying for 90% of a project, as traditionally has been the case, states would be expected to bring most of their own money and have the federal government top them off.

“It’s a deal-breaker for us,” says Ken Naquin, CEO of Louisiana Associated General Contractors. “I don’t think we can make the state match next year if nothing happens.”

Louisiana is part of a “chorus” of states voicing concern over the policy shift. Wilson hopes the state’s congressional delegation can score some concessions that would send money to Louisiana regardless of its ability to compete.

Trump’s infrastructure proposal is also part of a legislative agenda that includes relief for Hurricane Harvey and possibly Irma, tax reform, stabilizing the federal budget and now finding a way to replace Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a consequential immigration policy the Trump administration plans to end. In short, lawmakers have their hands full this fall.

If the infrastructure package does pass as the Trump administration envisions it, Louisiana would be “left out in the cold,” says Scott Kirkpatrick, executive director of the Capital Region Industry for Sustainable Infrastructure Solutions.

“We can’t pay for our existing infrastructure,” Kirkpatrick says. “Louisiana doesn’t have a whole lot of projects where the private sector would be willing to come in and provide funding,”

—Sam Karlin

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