Donald Trump next week will send Congress a proposal to hand over control of the U.S. air-traffic control system to a non-profit corporation, part of a week-long push for his infrastructure plan, said Gary Cohn, the president’s chief economic adviser.
The proposal, which Trump will release on Monday in an Oval Office ceremony and Rose Garden event, will kick off what Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, called the formal launch of the president’s infrastructure initiative. Later in the week, Trump plans to travel to Ohio and Kentucky to garner support for his plan — a key campaign promise — to channel $1 trillion into the nation’s roads, bridges, inland waterways and other public facilities.
“We know that in many of these areas we’re falling behind, and the falling behind is affecting economic growth in the United States,’’ Cohn said on a call with reporters. “The president wants to fix the problems, and he doesn’t want to push these liabilities into the future.’’
Trump’s actions come after an initial outline of his infrastructure plan and his proposed budget sparked criticism from state and city leaders of both parties, who said they’d be left with too much of the financial burden.
For the $1 trillion plan, Trump has proposed $200 billion in federal spending on “targeted federal investments’’ in rural areas and for projects with regional or national priority, as well as for “self-help” incentives to spur states, localities and private entities to generate more of their own revenues for projects.
Congressional Democrats, who Trump is counting on to help get his plan through Congress, have also blasted the plan – as well as proposed 2018 budget cuts to transportation programs – and have said that significantly more direct federal funding is needed. The White House has said that it aims to have a full legislative plan for the initiative by the third quarter, although a White House official said Friday that the timing is “still open.”
Trump’s air-traffic control plan will be based largely on legislation introduced in 2016 by Representative Bill Shuster, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, according to a White House official. The official said there would be some changes from Shuster’s plan, which stalled in the face of opposition in the Senate and among some leading House Republicans, but declined to say what they would be.
While providing few specifics, Cohn said Trump’s proposal would create a new user fee to replace current taxes on aviation fuel and airline tickets. He also said there would be unspecified protections for rural airports; critics of the air-traffic plan have said it would jeopardize small airports by giving too much power to airlines and large hubs.
NextGen or Not?
While the Federal Aviation Administration is already years into a technology upgrade known as NextGen, the efficiency improvements it promises can be done more effectively outside of direct government control, say backers of the White House plan. The FAA would continue to monitor safety and write air-traffic regulations.
Most large airlines and some former high-level FAA managers favor the privatization plan, which is opposed by many Democratic lawmakers and private-aviation groups. The opponents say the current system works well, and they fear the transition would be a setback to the introduction of new technology.
About 60 countries, including Canada and the U.K., have gone to similar semi-private management of their air-traffic networks.
On June 7, Trump is scheduled to visit Ohio and Kentucky, including a stop at a location on the Ohio River that forms the border between the two states, to highlight the locks, dams and other elements of the inland waterways system crucial for moving agricultural products and other goods, Cohn said. The key principles of Trump’s plan, released May 23, called for a fee on commercial navigation to finance future capital investments.
On June 8, Trump will host governors and mayors at the White House for a bipartisan listening session, Cohn said.
Trump plans to finish the week at the Department of Transportation offices in Washington to discuss its efforts to streamline the regulatory approval and permitting process for road and rail projects, Cohn said. Approvals that can take 10 years should be done in two years or less, he added, and the White House has convened a task force of 16 agencies to examine policies, rules and laws that should be targeted to speed up the process.
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