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President’s American heart, hands and grit promise may spur infrastructure campaign

As part of his Make America Great Again promise, President Donald Trump offered the American Infrastructure Initiative in February of this year. Many Alabama lawmakers hoped to pass a statewide infrastructure package during the last legislative session, but like President Trump’s plan, it stalled because Republicans feared voter backlash in an election year.

As reported in The Hill, “The Trump administration, for its part, has been relatively quiet on the plan since the president said a proposal from Congress would likely come after this year’s midterm elections.” The same is true for the current leadership at the Alabama State House.

State legislators privately say infrastructure legislation will be a top priority in the next legislative session. They also admit the real battle may not be whether or not to pass a bill but how the funds are to be divided, setting up a struggle between major population centers and rural communities.

As Chip Brownlee reported in February, “Alabama’s infrastructure in 2017 received a C-minus grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers, which found that the state’s roads, bridges, waterways, and transit were in mediocre or poor condition. Roads received a D-plus grade and ALDOT rated 50 percent of the interstates and state highways — which carry as much as 60 percent of road traffic — as fair, poor or very poor and said maintenance must be a priority.”

Infrastructure bill makes brief appearance in the Senate

A 2015 study published by the Brookings Institute found, “[O]nly a quarter of jobs in low-skill and middle-skill industries can be reached within 90 minutes by a typical metropolitan commuter.” Its analysis also notes that, “Successful cities will be those that connect workers to jobs and close the digital divide between high-income and low-income neighborhoods.”

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House Speaker Mac McCutcheon and Gov. Kay Ivey have both expressed support for a modest fuel tax increase to fund new road projects. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh has also led talks about how to improve the state’s deteriorating infrastructure.

The last time the Legislature successfully addressed full revenue funding for roads and bridges was in 1992. Since then, a generation of Alabamians have grown up and entered the workforce only to face a crumbling infrastructure that barely supports 21st century jobs.

The League of Municipalities estimated the state has a $360 million annual shortfall in tax revenues from the existing motor fuels taxes. They, like other stakeholders, are concerned not only over the lack of available money but also the funding mechanism and how the pie will be split between state, county and municipalities.

The Trump administration plans another run at keeping the President’s pledge to, “build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways all across our land.”

President Trump’s success may buoy state lawmakers encouraged by his words to build a better infrastructure using, “American heart, and American hands, and American grit,” as the President promised.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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