Despite Trump’s non-love-affair with the press, here is friendly advice from a New York Times business columnist, James Stewart, on how to spend a trillion dollars (or two) remaking America: Trump-Size Idea for a New President: Build Something Inspiring.
First off, here is how NOT to do it.
Repealing Obamacare, lowering taxes for businesses and mostly wealthy people, overhauling the immigration system and privatizing Medicare — what congressional Republicans have cited as their top legislative priorities — would be divisive in a nation bitterly split along partisan and geographic lines. But nearly everyone agrees that America has grossly neglected its infrastructure even as the rest of the world, notably China, has raced ahead.
Trump will need to break out of that congressional, ideological mold.
Here’s the short case for why we should do it. Read the Stewart essay for more evidence that we can do it - we’ve done it before (as in FDR’s New Deal projects).
“Our airports are like from a third-world country,” Mr. Trump said at Hofstra University during the first presidential debate. “You land at La Guardia, you land at Kennedy, you land at LAX, you land at Newark, and you come in from Dubai and Qatar and you see these incredible — you come in from China, you see these incredible airports, and you land — we’ve become a third-world country.”
Let me second that: “Our airports are like from a third-world country.” I’ll add to the list of comparisons. In September we flew out of the newly expanded airport in Livingston, Zambia. Right across the border in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, we saw a new international airport being built (by Chinese, I think). We’ve traveled in Indonesia and the Makassar airport is world-class.
Who could disagree? Hillary Clinton also called for a big increase in infrastructure spending.
“The single best thing the federal government can do to promote economic growth is to repair and build the transportation network, the highways, railroads and airports,” said Roger Noll, an emeritus professor of economics at Stanford and a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. “It’s been neglected for 30 years.”
Last year, Dan McNichol, author of the book “The Roads That Built America,” a history of the Interstate highway system, and a White House adviser on transportation issues for President George H. W. Bush, navigated the country in a 1949 Hudson Commodore on a mission to investigate the state of America’s infrastructure.
“I was trying to see if this was really a crisis or a media sensation,” he told me this week from California, where he’s working on the state’s high-speed rail project. “I found out it’s pretty dire in terms of total infrastructure. For a nation that leads the world in global trade, our systems are failing.”
In just a few words, here is what Trump has promised, what he should not do, and what he should do.
Mr. Trump has pledged $1 trillion over 10 years, but no one I spoke to thought that was enough. Doubling that would be more realistic, Mr. McNichol said. And Mr. Trump’s campaign proposal was limited to infrastructure projects that could pay for themselves out of user fees, which seems like a shortsighted approach. Most economists say the best way to finance a big public works program, particularly given today’s low interest rates, would be for the government to borrow most of the money from investors.
But in the spirit of magnanimity, let’s give Mr. Trump the benefit of the doubt, as Mr. Obama has suggested. He’ll need his own versions of Harold L. Ickes, Roosevelt’s interior secretary, who ran the P.W.A., and his close adviser Harry L. Hopkins, who ran the W.P.A.
Mr. Trump will also need to be hands-on. (Scriber: Should not be a problem for Trump.) Roosevelt asked states and cities for proposals, but he made nearly all the final decisions himself. “F.D.R. was a fanatic about infrastructure, roads, planning,” Mr. McNichol said. “As a commissioner in New York, he helped lay out the Taconic Parkway. He even helped design the picnic tables.”
So where should President Trump start?
I’ll list here just a few of the possibilities.
California high-speed rail
Cost: $65 billion
America’s first modern high-speed rail project would connect San Francisco and Los Angeles, about 400 miles apart, in under three hours.
Northeast Corridor maglev
Cost: $100 billion
Traveling at 300 miles per hour on a cushion of air, magnetically levitated trains could cut the commute from New York to Washington to an hour and render the painfully slow Acela obsolete.
Miami sea wall
Cost: $20 billion
Miami is one of the cities most vulnerable to rising sea levels and ocean surges. If the Atlantic Ocean rises just five feet, 96 percent of Miami Beach will be submerged. A system of levees, sea walls and storm surge protectors like the Maeslantkering in Rotterdam, the Netherlands — giant sea doors that open and close automatically to protect the harbor — could be both attractive and effective. Miami could be a prototype for other endangered American coastal cities and ports, including Boston; Charleston, S.C.; Galveston, Tex.; Savannah, Ga.; and New Orleans.
Texas bullet train
Cost: $10 billion
Even without a federal program, Texans are actively looking for private investors for a high-speed rail link between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston. Passengers would make the 240-mile, one-stop trip in 90 minutes. If successful, the line could be extended to San Antonio and Austin, covering the so-called Texaplex, which includes 75 percent of the state’s population and is home to 52 Fortune 500 companies.
The right public works projects, said Mr. Myers-Lipton of San Jose State, would “address the public anger that elected Trump, which is that the regular folks aren’t being taken care of.” During the Depression, “the government built beautiful hotels and golf courses and parks. The vision was, what’s usually for the elite should be for everybody. That’s the power of public works.”
Now you should read Stewart’s full report for more shovel-ready infrastructure projects.