An advocate for the state’s road builders is happy President elect Donald Trump has pledged to rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.
But Len Toenjes, who heads the Associated General Contractors of Missouri, thinks a more broad based approach is needed to finance roads and bridges.
Trump’s plan relies heavily on private financing, offering almost $140 billion in tax breaks to companies who invest in projects, claiming those breaks would stimulate $1 billion in investments over 10 years.
However, the firms making those investments would require a revenue source to offset their expenses, which would result in a vast expansion of toll roads. Toenjes says those “Public-Private Projects”, or PPP”s, would have a limited impact.
“In Missouri, if you look at some of the lettered roads, or some of the arterial roads that receive state or federal support right now, it’s unrealistic to think that those could be privatized” said Toenjes. He mentioned highway 36 in northern Missouri and highway 67 in the southeast part of the state as examples of roads supported by federal and state money which investors would shy away from.
Public-private partnerships let private companies bid on transportation projects, build and maintain the project for a set amount of time, and recover costs through tolls or other payments handled through the state.
Toenjes thinks there’ll need to be a multi-faceted method of financing highways. He says a combination of PPP’s, fuel taxes, levies on freight transportation and an increase in various fees could satisfy the $1 trillion price tag.
Republicans in Congress have mentioned using repatriated tax dollars, which would first require an overhaul of the tax system, as a onetime boost to federal transportation needs. Such money would be realized after firms brought back into the U.S. profits currently being held in foreign countries.
There’s also talk of taxing companies which transport freight across the country, mainly on interstate highways, to help finance road projects.
Toenjes with Associated General Contractors is happy roads are finally being addressed by the president elect. “The fact that this is a cornerstone of where he’s looking at going forward is absolutely wonderful” said Toenjes. “I think as it gets into the legislative process, and all these nuances and variations and facets of the complexity of it come to light, the good news is, it is coming to light.”
Toenjes points out a national plan to fix roads would have an outsize impact on the state. He notes Missouri gets between 65 and 70 percent of its funding for highways from the federal government. “It’s good for us that we get more back. It would make sense for us to support something at the federal level because Missourians do receive more back than what they contribute.”
Highly populated states like California and New York generate more federal tax dollars than what they receive from Washington. Toenjes says Missouri is in the top-third of states getting more money back than they contribute in.