Democrats pave the way toward spending $1 trillion on roads, ports and other projects

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Author: Michael Doyle

A lot more money could fuel improvements to California’s highways, airports and rail lines under a 10-year, trillion-dollar infrastructure plan proposed Tuesday by Senate Democrats.

The ambitious but broad-stroke Democratic plan amounts to an opening bid, nudging the White House and congressional Republicans to start down the road toward a major infrastructure bill that California lawmakers would help write.

“We must do it,” Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, said in an interview Tuesday. “The question is, how do we pay for it?”

The Senate Democrats’ plan asserts it can be paid for by “closing tax loopholes used by corporations and superwealthy individuals to offset associated costs,” a notion that provokes deep skepticism among Republicans.

California Gov. Jerry Brown has already identified $59 billion in needed improvements and maintenance for the state’s roads, highways and bridges. Garamendi on Tuesday promoted other projects that range from fixing Central Valley flood-control levees to deepening the Stockton and Sacramento ports.

“We have roads and tunnels and railroads and even a dam that the president could help us with,” Brown said Tuesday in his State of the State speech, adding that “we can all work together, here in Sacramento and in Washington, as well.”

President Donald Trump’s team has compiled a list of about 50 infrastructure projects nationwide, totaling at least $137.5 billion, as the new White House tries to determine its investment priorities, according to documents obtained by McClatchy’s Kansas City Star and The Tacoma News Tribune.

The documents, circulated within the congressional and business communities, offer a first glimpse at which projects around the country might get funding if Trump follows through on his campaign promise to renew America’s crumbling highways, airports, dams and bridges.

Among the projects are three in California: the Cadiz water conveyance project proposed for the Mojave Desert, a Huntington Beach desalinization plant and the TransWest Express Transmission Project, an electric transmission system in Southern California, Nevada and Arizona.

Still other California infrastructure projects, from high-speed rail to the proposed WaterFix tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, would incite far more controversy if proposed for inclusion. While Trump has lamented that “we have nothing” comparable to China’s high-speed rail, for instance, House Republicans have sought to block California’s project.

Many Republicans seem on board with the general idea of investing in infrastructure. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield has already identified it as one of the top priorities for the House of Representatives for the first 100 days of the new Congress, along with regulatory, tax and health care revisions.

“You’ve got to make sure that America has the infrastructure in the 21st century to be able to compete,” McCarthy said Sunday on “The Cats Roundtable,” a New York AM radio show.

Trump, too, touted during the campaign his intention to “transform America’s crumbling infrastructure” and make “investments in transportation, clean water, a modern and reliable electricity grid,” among other projects.

Campaign promises and bill introductions, though, eventually crash into Capitol Hill barriers, exemplified by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s repeated warnings that any infrastructure program should be paid for. McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, said during her Senate confirmation hearing to serve as Trump’s transportation secretary that the administration would consider “all the (funding) options . . . both public and private, that provide the greatest cost-benefit.”

Nine Californians serve on the sprawling House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which will write one version of any package. Republican Rep. Jeff Denham of Turlock chairs the rail subcommittee, Garamendi is the senior Democrat on the panel overseeing maritime transportation and Rep. Grace Napolitano of El Monte is the senior Democrat on the water and resources development subcommittee.

The House committee’s Democrats are preparing to unveil their own version of a 10-year, trillion-dollar plan, Garamendi said.

The state’s freshman Democratic senator, Kamala Harris, is a junior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which would also have a piece of any big infrastructure package. Harris replaced the retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer, who carried special clout as the committee’s senior Democrat.

“The senator has already started speaking with local leaders in California about the urgent needs in their parts of the state and will advocate for their inclusion in any proposal,” Tyrone Gayle, Harris’ press secretary, said Tuesday.

The Senate Democrats’ 11-page blueprint unveiled Tuesday proposes $180 billion to improve and expand bus and rail systems, $10 billion to modernize ports and waterways and $210 billion to fix crumbling roads and bridges. It also proposes $30 billion for airport improvements, $10 billion for new Veterans Affairs facilities and $75 billion to modernize public schools.