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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, February 13, 2018 1:00 am

Plan calls for selling airports, roads, utilities

Michael Laris | Washington Post

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration is making a push to sell off federal assets as part of its infrastructure plan released Monday.

Among the targets: Reagan National and Dulles International airports and two major parkways serving the Washington region, as well as power assets around the country, according to a copy of the proposal.

Power transmission assets from the Tennessee Valley Authority; the Southwestern Power Administration, which sells power in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas; the Western Area Power Administration; and the Bonneville Power Administration, covering the Pacific northwest, were cited for potential divestiture. The Washington Aqueduct, which supplies drinking water in Washington and Northern Virginia, also is on the list.

“The Federal Government owns and operates certain infrastructure that would be more appropriately owned by State, local, or private entities,” the Trump plan says. It calls for giving federal agencies “authority to divest of Federal assets where the agencies can demonstrate an increase in value from the sale would optimize the taxpayer value.”

The Washington region's George Washington Memorial Parkway and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, both run by the National Park Service, are listed as “examples of assets for potential divestiture.”

The Trump proposal is consistent with an overall $200 billion infrastructure initiative, a year in the making, that is focused on speeding up permitting by reducing environmental regulations, and trying to prompt state and local governments and private industry to spend more on projects without making major new federal investments.

Some state officials said they were uncertain about how their residents would benefit from such a proposal. Federal assets come with crucial federal dollars that could not easily be replaced, officials said.

“All I can see now is a federal obligation that they're trying to push off. Where would we get the money from without a revenue source?” asked Virginia Finance Secretary Aubrey Layne.

Layne, an accountant and former transportation secretary, said numerous unanswered questions make it impossible to gauge the proposal at this point.

“I don't even know what's being sold – I don't mean just physical, I mean obligations,” Layne said. “What level of funding? Is the federal government just going to wash their hands of it?”

Administration officials said Saturday that the $200 billion in planned federal spending on its infrastructure plan is meant to spur some $1.5 trillion in activity overall. Some critics on Capitol Hill have dismissed the administration's math and the thrust of its approach, and pointed to cuts in infrastructure spending long proposed by the administration, which also released its budget request Monday.