Trump infrastructure plan has rural money, but can Alaska have some?

The White House at dusk

The White House on Dec. 25, 2009. (Creative Commons photo by Tom Lohdan)

The White House has presented its long promised infrastructure plan. It’s getting mixed reviews from Alaska’s U.S. senators.

“You’ve got a specific set aside for rural infrastructure. That’s good,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski. “But the devil is going to be in the details here.”

Murkowski said she’ll examine the funding rules to make sure Alaska can benefit from the $50 billion intended for rural areas.

Nationally, President Donald Trump’s plan is to build $1.5 trillion in transportation projects and public works, but the federal government would put up just $200 billion. The rest would come from state, local and private funds.

Murkowski has her doubts about private investment.

“We know that in Alaska, trying to pay for things by way of a toll road, that’s not going to work for us,” Murkowski said.

Murkowski also cast doubt on the state’s ability to provide significant matching funds. More subtly, she said she’ll be on the lookout for requirements that include cost-benefit ratios. Alaska projects cost a lot and benefit relatively few people. Alaska doesn’t do well when federal funding requests are judged on per capita costs, Murkowski said.

“It’s criteria like that, that for me could be not only very worrisome, that could really be a death knell for a state like Alaska in our ability to be treated fairly,” Murkowski said.

Murkowski said she’ll learn more about the infrastructure proposal at a White House meeting Wednesday for committee chairs. The top Democrats on each committee were invited, too. Murkowski took that as a good sign, indicating the White House isn’t intending the proposal as a partisan exercise.

Sen. Dan Sullivan is pleased the plan includes environmental permitting reform, to speed up the time it takes to get a project started. He said regulatory efficiency is an idea that appeals to Republicans and Democrats.

Environmental groups, though, say the plan would weaken environmental safeguards.

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