Officials feel hope, apprehension with infrastructure plan in Trump budget

WARREN — Local officials are responding with both hope and apprehension to President Donald Trump’s proposal to provide $200 billion in federal funds to spur $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments. The plan shifts the bulk of the burden onto local dollars.

“I think it is a big undertaking and the proof will be in the execution of the plan and what support Congress offers,” said Mauro Cantalamessa, Trumbull County commissioner. “But it is a good springboard and negotiating point that could potentially move us forward.”

Though the plan promises $200 billion in federal funds, states and local governments are expected to front about 80 percent of project costs in exchange for 20 percent from the federal government, shifting the traditional bulk of responsibility away from federal dollars.

“It looks like the state and localities are going to have to pick up the majority of the price tag,” Cantalamessa said. “More federal investment would make it more viable for local and state governments. But it is a good starting point and a comprehensive plan is long overdue.”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, took a harder line against the proposal, which he stated relies on money state and local governments don’t have, unless they raise taxes, and depends on private investment, which would likely require tolls.

“I’m ready to work with President Trump to make good on his promise to rebuild American infrastructure. But accounting gimmicks don’t build bridges,” Brown said. “We know Ohio communities and workers are already strapped for cash, and we can’t simply pass the cost of this infrastructure investment onto drivers, cities and counties through tolls and local tax hikes.”

The area’s infrastructure needs to be updated, said Dan Polivka, Trumbull County commissioner.

“I think this can be a big shot in the arm to local and state governments to be able to make the decisions that are best for their community when it comes to highway bridges and other infrastructure projects,” Polivka said.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, D-Ohio, said he hopes to work on a bipartisan bill to address infrastructure.

“The president’s infrastructure proposal is a good starting point for discussion and I’m hopeful both parties will work together on this issue. By rebuilding our aging infrastructure and improving job training programs targeted toward in-demand infrastructure-related jobs, we have a great opportunity to further strengthen our economy,” Portman said.

Girard Mayor James Melfi said cities like his have a lot of infrastructure needs that they don’t have the money to fix on their own.

“We have old water lines we can’t afford to replace; we have a major expansion — nearly $20 million — on the wastewater treatment plant this year. It is a burden being put on the backs of residents. Rates have to increase to pay for it. It is overwhelming,” Melfi said.

It isn’t clear how the plan will affect Ohio cities just yet, Melfi said.

“But I am under the assumption that the president, who did well in the rust belt cities like ours, he will give us the opportunity to share in this revitalization,” Melfi said.

And the plan’s proposal to streamline permitting and expand funding for land revitalization projects sounds appealing and something that could benefit the city, Melfi said.

Cantalamessa said the plan’s promise of $50 billion for investment in rural areas, which will mostly be funneled to the states to distribute, stood out to him.

“I would hope to get some of that investment into the northern part of Trumbull County. We need money for water and other infrastructure projects. It could be good opportunity to increase the quality of life in those areas,” Cantalamessa said.