Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Trump Administration wants to cut funding for infrastructure in rural areas

Above: The description for this photo, taken in May 1938, reads, "Water supply dam and system. WPA constructed this dam and ran 10" conduit, 5 miles down mountain. Supplies town of 2,000 people [Bryson City, North Carolina] with water." Across the nation, various New Deal agencies provided funds and labor for tens of thousands of waterworks projects. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

As Republicans seek to increase military spending and give tax breaks to the rich, the Trump administration "plans to eliminate its water and waste-disposal loan and grant program, which helps with rural water and waste infrastructure, for a savings of nearly $500 million." The rationale: "Rural communities can be served by private sector financing or other Federal investments in rural water infrastructure, such as the Environmental Protection Agency's State Revolving Funds." (See "Trump seeks $4.7 billion in cuts to USDA discretionary spending," Washington Post, March 16, 2016)

We also know that many Republicans, for example, Trump, want to drastically cut the EPA's budget. So, it's more likely than not that rural areas (that supported Trump) will have to rely more and more on private sector financing - and that means higher interest rates, or higher utility bills, or more regressive taxation on the middle-class and poor, or all of the above. After all, CEO's and wealthy shareholders have to make their millions.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recently came out with their new Infrastructure Report Card. America's drinking water infrastructure received a "D" letter grade and its wastewater infrastructure received a "D+" letter grade. Among other things, the ASCE noted that there are about a quarter-of-a-million water main breaks in the United States, every single year, and that "sewer overflows are a leading source of water pollution in the U.S." Given these facts, not to mention the problems we've had with lead-contaminated drinking water, why would the Trump administration propose cutting an infrastructure program to assist rural Americans? Could it be that Trump and other Republicans really don't give a crap about rural Americans? Nooooo.... couldn't be!

Above: A new sewage disposal plant in Carbon Hill, Alabama, constructed by WPA workers in 1937. Across Alabama, WPA workers installed 386 miles of new sewer lines and built or improved 40 utility plants (Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1946, p. 136). Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

On November 2, 2015, the USDA announced that 88 projects had been approved for funding through its Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program. It also noted that "Since 2009, USDA has helped provide improved water and wastewater services to nearly 18 million rural residents by investing $12.3 billion in 5,174 projects." As an example, it highlighted Sparta, Tennessee, where "antiquated equipment could not handle rainwater runoff, causing sewage to spill out of drains. In 2011, USDA provided $2.9 million to Sparta to build a new wastewater system, ending the major sewage problem." ("USDA Provides $314 Million in Water and Waste Infrastructure Improvements in Rural Communities Nationwide," USDA, Press Release No. 0304.15)

At a time when the richest 400 Americans are enjoying record wealth ($2.4 trillion and growing); and at a time when the Walmart heirs have more wealth that the bottom 40% of the population; and at a time when our nation's infrastructure is falling apart and poisoning our children, shouldn't federal programs to improve our infrastructure be enhanced rather than eliminated? Especially when more and more Americans are having trouble affording their utility bills, and are being nickel-and-dimed left and right with increasing taxes, tolls, fees, and fines at the state & local level?

All of the above is an example of how many (not all) rural Americans vote against their own economic and health interests by voting for Republicans. Of course, the corrupt Democratic Establishment isn't helping the matter by talking out of both sides of its mouth (i.e., trying to be champions of the middle-class while bowing down to corporate interests). You see, if the Democratic Establishment is going to be two-faced, then it's hard to make the case to rural Americans that, "hey, you should have voted for Hillary Clinton."

We need a New Deal for our infrastructure - not budget cuts, not "Third Way" Democrats, not trickle-down economics, and not "Make America Great Again" hats made in China or Vietnam. We need another, even stronger New Deal. Unfortunately, I don't suspect Americans will understand this any time soon. So, in the meantime, open up that wallet and pay more to your utility company... pay higher road & bridge tolls too... and pay some higher sales taxes... oh yeah, and pay a little more to register your vehicle... pay, pay, pay while the rich get richer and snicker at you. Yes, pay, pay, pay, it's the Republican way!

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