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In unaccustomed turn, White House infrastructure plan praises California funding measure

In unaccustomed turn, White House infrastructure plan praises California funding measure
The view over the 210 Freeway in La Cañada Flintridge. A Trump administration official is praising California's Measure M, the Los Angeles County sales-tax increase that will pay for infrastructure work. (Tim Berger / Glendale News-Press)

The Trump administration and California officials — particularly local leaders in Los Angeles — have consistently clashed on crucial policy issues from immigration to health care. But now comes an unusual twist.

A senior administration official, speaking in advance of Monday’s release of the White House’s “infrastructure principles,” singled out for praise a Los Angeles County sales-tax increase that was a top initiative of Mayor Eric Garcetti.

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But the unaccustomed compliment from the White House underscores an element that will make a sweeping infrastructure plan — intended to repair and revitalize roads, bridges and transit systems — a tough sell for many lawmakers.

The rub: who will provide the money.

President Trump has called for investing $1.5 trillion to fix and upgrade critical infrastructure across the country, much of which is in a dilapidated state. Under the administration’s proposal, however, the federal government would provide only $200 billion of the total.

That means state and local governments would need to step up, with incentives to do so.

“When we're thinking of revenues at the state and local level… a good case study would be Measure M in Los Angeles,” the administration official said, noting approvingly that the ballot-approved tax increase is “the ultimate sustainable source of revenue for projects.”

While fixing crumbling infrastructure is a broadly popular notion, most Democrats want direct federal spending to do so, and Republicans generally oppose just the kind of tax increases that the plan envisions.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to brief reporters, said the White House aims to “stimulate” $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investment. It also envisions shortening the permit process, the official said — a step environmentalists are likely to vehemently oppose.

Rural areas will be a particular investment target under the plan, which also calls for improvements in workforce training “so Americans are prepared to take advantage of jobs that will be created as we build out and improve our workforce,” according to the official.

The 2016 Los Angeles ballot measure cited by the White House as a model to be emulated elsewhere increased the county-wide sales tax by half a cent in 2016, despite fierce opposition from conservative groups.

Improvements and projects funded by the measure include bringing light rail to Los Angeles International Airport, extending the Purple Line subway to Westwood, renovating streets and sidewalks, and retrofitting bridges to better withstand earthquakes.

The tax, which will remain in place unless voters act to end it, is projected to bring in $860 million annually, funding transit projects for decades to come.

Infrastructure was a popular Trump topic on the campaign trail, and the president also used his State of the Union address last month to talk up his infrastructure ambitions.

"Together, we can reclaim our building heritage," he said. "We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways across our land."

Trump has mused previously that perhaps he should have tackled infrastructure last year prior to a debilitating legislative showdown over healthcare, which deepened partisan divides. He also has a record of rejecting carefully crafted bipartisan compromises, such as an immigration plan that could have staved off a three-day government shutdown last month.

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The official who briefed reporters, though, expressed confidence in the White House’s ability to sell the plan to lawmakers and the public alike, touting it as in line with the president’s often-professed disdain for heavy-handed decision making in the national capital.

“All of infrastructure is paid for by taxpayers, by users of the infrastructure,” the official said. “If you go and ask the public what their preference is, they would prefer to invest locally as opposed to sending money to Washington.”

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