Monday, March 05, 2018

Trump wants to improve rural infrastructure, but what will be counted as 'rural'?

The Trump administration's infrastructure proposal calls for giving $40 billion to governors in block grants and $10 billion to states via competitive rural grants, "but the way Trump officials propose to do that is already raising questions on Capitol Hill, with some saying that the administration is seeking to use untested and potentially politicized means to dole out the federal funds," Michael Laris reports for The Washington Post.

A new formula calculates grant distribution "based on rural lane miles and rural population adjusted to reflect policy objectives," according to administration budget documents. The problem is that there's no single federal definition of "rural," so it's unclear what kind of results such a yardstick would give.

One congressional official told Laris that the formula was odd because it uses rural-road miles even though the funding isn't specifically for roads. Funds could be used for water and wastewater, electricity production and transmission, and broadband internet. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao supported the package in Senate testimony last week but said she couldn't recall what someone had told her about the rural measuring stick. He agency later told the Post, "The rural formula will ensure that funding is provided to the rural areas that need it most."

The package also aims to speed up projects by limiting environmental reviews. The overall budget has deep spending cuts for existing transportation and other infrastructure spending, but a White House official told Laris that "there's a front-loading of the rural funds." An unnamed Democratic congressional aide said Trump is playing to his rural base.

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