Why A Trump Presidency Could Be A Win for Infrastructure

By Will Brown

For many, the results of the Nov. 8, 2016 election came as a surprise. For many others it was a repudiation of an establishment that has driven disgust and disenfranchisement within our government and political system. For all of us, the results represent a renewed opportunity for a change in direction.

In the weeks and months leading up to the election, state and nationwide polling seemed to almost guarantee a Hillary Clinton victory. As early as the third Presidential Debate, doubt about Donald Trump’s chances of victory seemed to be growing as even Fox News anchor and debate moderator Chris Wallace pressed Trump on whether he would accept the results of the election, but did not ask the same question of Secretary Clinton. Some news coverage the week before the election discussed how large Clinton’s victory might be, and almost no one, neither Republican nor Democratic strategists, suggested Trump might win, relying heavily on polling data.

As it turned out, the polling was wrong. What Trump called the ‘silent majority’ did not show up in polling data, but showed up at the polls. Trump won nearly every battleground state, including those that were projected out of reach.

While Clinton has won the popular vote, Trump controlled the Electoral College 290-232 with Michigan’s 16 electoral votes outstanding, but seemingly leaning toward Trump (as of press time). According to national exit polling data – that is, polling conducted after ballots were cast – Trump heavily outperformed expectations while Clinton heavily underperformed President Obama’s 2012 election results. Clinton won the votes of 54 percent of minorities, 7-points below Obama’s 2012 results. Trump won college-educated white voters 49 percent to 45 percent, which was supposed to be a demographic Clinton was expected to perform well. Clinton only won 54 percent of women, again underperforming her campaign expectations. Most telling however, was when voters were asked which candidate quality matters most (possible answers being: cares about me, can bring change, right experience and good judgement) 39 percent of respondents chose ‘can bring change’ as the most important quality and 83 percent of those respondents voted for Trump.


donald-trump

On the campaign trail, President-elect Donald Trump pledged to make infrastructure a priority in his administration.


For the infrastructure construction industry, this change should be welcomed. In his victory speech in the early morning the day after the election, President-elect Trump pledged to make infrastructure a priority in his administration. “We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals,” he said. “We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.” This is consistent with promises Trump made on the stump in the campaign.

While it remains somewhat unclear exactly how the Trump administration will invest in infrastructure, we can make a few assumptions based on campaign rhetoric and documents. It is clear Trump wants to invest in infrastructure by utilizing private capital. This could mean an increased reliance and utilization of public-private partnerships. It could also mean changes in the law to allow greater opportunity for private investment through mechanisms like private activity bonds, which Vice President-elect Mike Pence has supported.

In what will ultimately expand the conversation, utilizing private assets held overseas through repatriation may also be likely in the context of Trump’s promise to make the tax system work for businesses. While the devil is always in the details, it is conceivable that a ‘tax holiday’ could be implemented for foreign assets to be brought back to America in exchange for the capitalization of infrastructure financing mechanisms like the Highway Trust Fund, which would only fund highway projects, or an infrastructure bank, which could be more broadly applied.

Energy infrastructure may also benefit. America’s vast coal and natural gas deposits, which have been sizably scaled back during the Obama administration, may be tapped to make America more energy independent while investing in research and technology to produce energy cleaner and more environmentally. Accessing some of America’s larger natural gas deposits will require further expansion of water infrastructure, as the extraction of natural gas through fracking requires copious amounts of water at and to drilling sites.

In addition to potential investment opportunities, the Trump administration has set its sights on deregulation as well. Promising to cut two regulations for every new regulation created, the President-elect has made no secret of his desire to roll back regulations that harm businesses. Hopefully for the infrastructure construction industry, this includes rolling back the EPA’s Waters of the US (WOTUS) rule and OSHA’s crystalline silica rule, both of which could cost the industry billions in compliance costs if permitted to take effect.

These plans are conjecture, but with a united Congress it seems likely Trump’s first 100 days will be busy.

 


will_brownWill Brown is director of government affairs for the National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA), the trade association working solely for the utility construction and excavation industry in the United States. NUCA’s nationwide network of state/regional chapters and member companies represent utility contractors, excavators, suppliers, manufacturers and other providers in the water, sewer, gas, electric, telecommunications, treatment plant and excavation industries.

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