Recently, President Trump unveiled his long-awaited transportation infrastructure funding plan.
His plan includes $200 billion in new federal funds and having local and state governments and public-private partnerships pay the bulk of new transportation projects.
As is usually the case with anything the President proposes, the howls of protest began before the ink was even dry on the copies. Every local politician was decrying the end of their favorite project.
Local headlines largely tallied the predicted death toll of local transportation projects. “How Trump’s new budget threatens Sacramento’s streetcar future,” wrote the Sacramento Bee.
Maybe that’s a good thing. For those who don’t live here, the Sacramento Streetcar is a proposed, 4-mile, $200 million streetcar project that would connect Sacramento and West Sacramento.
Local governments have agreed to kick in some of the money to pay for the project. Local business property owners in the area agreed to tax themselves to also pay a share in a controversial election that is being challenged by a taxpayer watchdog group.
Congress has appropriated $50 million for the plan, but they are awaiting signing a full funding grant agreement with Washington before they can spend the money. Naturally, the $50 million isn’t enough. Local officials want $100 million from Uncle Sam.
Why should Washington send any dollars at all? It would seem to me that expanding bus service would be much more cost effective than spending at least $200 million to build a 4-mile streetcar.
This is why the Trump proposal is probably a good thing. Dumb and costly projects like the Sacramento Streetcar would stand virtually no chance of getting federal funding. It would also force local and state officials to do something that they do a very poor job of – prioritizing funding for transportation.
The cities have already entered into a public-private partnership with local business owners to pay for part of the project. If this streetcar is so essential to their business, I’m sure the private business owners would gladly pay whatever it takes to get it built. If not, maybe it’s not so essential a project after all.
These local governments should also listen to the voters. A half-cent sales tax increase to fund local transportation projects was rejected by voters in 2016 in Sacramento County.
Perhaps that vote should be taken as a statement from local taxpayers that there are other, more important transportation priorities in the region than funding pet projects like the Sacramento Streetcar that will only serve a very narrow constituency.
Tim Anaya is communications director for Pacific Research Institute.