President-elect Donald Trump’s plan to rebuild American infrastructure with public-private partnerships faces an uphill public relations battle, a new poll suggests:
A majority of Americans oppose the type of infrastructure proposal that has been floated by President-elect Donald Trump, which could further spell trouble for his promised $1 trillion package, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Sixty-six percent of respondents said they oppose a plan to offer nearly $140 billion in federal tax credits to private investors that back transportation projects, with 44 percent indicating they “strongly” oppose such a proposal and 22 percent “somewhat” against it.
Of the 29 percent of people who said that they support the plan, 11 percent are in strong support and 18 percent somewhat agree with the idea. Six percent of respondents had no opinion.
It’s hard to know how reflective these polls really are of the political mood around infrastructure — if roads get built in the end without a big tax hike, will people really care how it happened? It’s also possible that Americans, many of whom live in places without toll roads, are turned off by the idea of paying for what is currently a free public good. But it nonetheless seems clear that privatization will create easy opportunities to attack Trump and that his Republican (and Democratic) allies need to think about how to communicate the benefits of harnessing private investment for public infrastructure projects. In the main, this means they need to highlight the relative speed and efficiency private firms can bring to construction.
But the Trump administration also will have to contend with the uglier consequences and optics of privatization. Among them: the likely involvement of foreign money, the worries that private companies will be allowed to hike tolls beyond reason, and the many opportunities for graft and special dealing that privatization creates. There are ways for all of these concerns to be mitigated with smart legislation and strong regulatory protections—not the red tape that slows things down, but rather duct tape that holds things together.
If Trump can strike the right balance, we’ve repeatedly said we think Americans will be surprised by how well public-private partnerships can work. But it isn’t going to be easy.