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Politics

Trump visits Ohio to tout $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan

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    President Donald Trump speaks Thursday, March 29, 2018, in Richfield.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

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    President Donald Trump waves as he is introduced to speak at Local 18 Richfield Training Facility, Thursday, March 29, 2018, in Richfield.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • Trump-657

    President Donald Trump speaks at Local 18 Richfield Training Facility, Thursday, March 29, 2018, in Richfield.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

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RICHFIELD, Ohio — With earth-mov­ers, hard­hats, and Amer­i­can flags as back­drops, Pres­i­dent Trump on Thurs­day urged Con­gress to en­act what he bills as the big­gest in­vest­ment in the na­tion’s roads, bridges, and pipe­lines that the na­tion has seen in half a cen­tury.

“Any­thing we can dream, we can build,” he said. “You will cre­ate the new high­ways, the new dams, and sky­scrap­ers that will be­come last­ing mon­u­ments to Amer­ica’s strength and con­tin­u­ing great­ness.”

APTOPIX-Trump-48

President Donald Trump waves as he is introduced to speak at Local 18 Richfield Training Facility, Thursday, March 29, 2018, in Richfield.

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This marked Mr. Trump’s sec­ond visit to Ohio in less than a year to pro­mote what the ad­min­is­tra­tion touts as a $1.5 tril­lion, 10-year pub­lic-pri­vate in­vest­ment in re­plac­ing and build­ing new in­fra­struc­ture, say­ing it is Amer­ica’s turn to be a “de­vel­op­ing coun­try.”

Pres­i­dent Obama vis­ited Ohio in 2011 in hopes of get­ting Cap­i­tol Hill to move a mas­sive in­fra­struc­ture plan that was largely seen as eco­nomic stim­u­lus part two. It never got off the ground.

Despite de­scrib­ing a sense of ur­gency, Mr. Trump con­ceded that he may have to wait un­til af­ter this year’s elec­tion to see pas­sage of the pack­age, whether as a sin­gle bill or a se­ries of bills.

He spoke to a pre­dom­i­nantly male, mixed crowd of suits, ties, and hard­hats at the In­ter­na­tional Union of Oper­at­ing Engi­neers Lo­cal 18 train­ing fa­cil­ity in Rich­field, north of Akron. The union rep­resents heavy equip­ment op­er­a­tors, me­chan­ics, en­gi­neers, and other con­struc­tion trades.

Gov. John Ka­sich, his for­mer foe in the 2016 con­test for the GOP pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion and still a fre­quent critic, was no­where to be seen and was not men­tioned by the Pres­i­dent.

But Mr. Ka­sich’s lieu­tenant gov­er­nor, Mary Tay­lor, was in at­ten­dance as she has re­aligned her­self with Mr. Trump in her own bid for gov­er­nor this year. Her op­po­nent for the GOP nom­i­na­tion, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Mike DeWine, did not at­tend.

In a 52-minute speech in which he swerved from sub­ject to sub­ject, the Re­pub­li­can Pres­i­dent talked mid­term elec­tions, vet­er­ans’ health care, tax cuts, South Korean trade, his prom­ised wall on the Mex­i­can bor­der, ju­di­cial ap­point­ments, and even the TV rat­ings of the Trump-talk­ing Rose­anne re­boot.

“We spent as of three months ago $7 tril­lion — not bil­lion, $7 tril­lion with a T — in the Mid­dle East,” Mr. Trump said. “We build a school. They blow it up. We build it again. They blow it up. ...

“But if you want a school in Ohio [to get] some win­dows, you can’t get the money,” he said. “If you want a school in Penn­syl­va­nia or Iowa and you need fed­eral money, you can’t get any money.”

The Coun­cil of Eco­nomic Ad­vis­ers es­ti­mates a $1.5 tril­lion in­vest­ment could boost growth in na­tional gross do­mes­tic prod­uct by 0.1 per­cent to 0.2 per­cent a year and em­ploy 290,000 to 414,000 con­struc­tion work­ers over 10 years.

The plan would put up $200 bil­lion in fed­eral fund­ing but would be heav­ily de­pen­dent on $1.3 tril­lion in state and lo­cal gov­ern­ment sup­port and pri­vate-sec­tor in­vest­ment to re­vi­tal­ize Amer­ica’s spirit of in­ge­nu­ity and imag­i­na­tion.

“It was dor­mant for many, many years, and now it’s back,” Mr. Trump said. “And we’re try­ing to have the pri­vate sec­tor in­vest the money. Why the hell should we do it, right?”

While the gen­eral idea of in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment has drawn sup­port across the aisle, the price tag, com­bined with that of the tax cuts passed last year, have so far kept it from mov­ing.

Dem­o­crats have ar­gued that the plan does not in­clude enough fed­eral in­vest­ment on the front end and fear it would lead to broader pri­vat­i­za­tion of tra­di­tion­ally pub­lic as­sets, lead­ing to more toll roads and bridges.

In ad­di­tion to dol­lars, the ad­min­is­tra­tion is look­ing to states like Ohio to loosen li­cens­ing re­quire­ments for skilled trades to make more lesser-ed­u­cated work­ers el­i­gi­ble for such jobs. It also wants to dra­mat­i­cally shorten the time for en­vi­ron­men­tal stud­ies and other per­mit­ting pro­cesses so that dirt can be moved more quickly.

While a com­pre­hen­sive in­fra­struc­ture plan has not moved, the ad­min­is­tra­tion is look­ing at $21 bil­lion in­cluded in the re­cent fed­eral spend­ing law as a down pay­ment to get things started.

Among those in the crowd was Demo­cratic for­mer Toledo area state Rep. Matt Szol­losi, who is now ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Af­fil­i­ated Con­struc­tion Trades of Ohio. The or­ga­ni­za­tion broke with much of la­bor to fi­nan­cially sup­port Mr. Ka­sich in 2014, in part be­cause of his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s le­ver­ag­ing of the Ohio Turn­pike and other bor­row­ing to in­vest heav­ily in in­fra­struc­ture.

He said he is “cau­tiously op­ti­mis­tic” about Mr. Trump’s plans.

“If the ini­tial in­vest­ment comes from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and is then matched or there’s ad­di­tional fund­ing from other sources, then we’re hope­ful that the over­all in­vest­ment leads to sig­nifi­cant job cre­ation for the con­struc­tion in­dus­try,” he said.

Mr. Szol­losi said his mem­bers don’t care where the money comes from.

“We’re look­ing for the in­vest­ment to oc­cur, and our mem­bers sim­ply want the op­por­tu­nity to work and earn a liv­ing for our fam­i­lies,”he said.

Contact Jim Provance at jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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