Trump's Lack of Action on Public Works Sparks New Ad Campaign

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump hasn’t delivered on his promises to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure. So to remind him, companies that make equipment for construction and other industries are going to the place he’s most likely to hear them: Fox News.

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers is airing a 30-second ad starting Monday on “Fox and Friends” and other programs Trump is known to watch. It’s the cornerstone of a “Mission Not Accomplished” campaign urging Washington to make upgrading public works a priority.

While the White House has said no action on a bill is likely this year, the group wants to get the discussion re-started by nudging Trump and congressional leaders to keep a campaign pledge that was central to the president’s economic agenda.

“When you go out there and you campaign and you say you’re going to make a difference by infrastructure investment, we want to hold people accountable,” said Dennis Slater, president of the association that represents more than 950 companies including Caterpillar Inc., Volvo Construction Equipment Corp. and Link-Belt Cranes. “Let’s get back to what you promised here.”

Trump made fixing U.S. roads, bridges, airports and other public works a pillar of his campaign. The American Society of Civil Engineers has estimated that planned spending on infrastructure from 2016-2025 is $2 trillion short of what is needed. The group says substandard public works cost the economy trillions.

$200 Billion

The administration’s plan released in February would provide only $200 billion in federal funding over 10 years to spur states, localities and the private sector to spend the balance of $1.5 trillion -- with no identified way to pay for it. The plan stalled amid Democratic criticism that Trump’s budget proposal would cut more than the $200 billion amount from other transportation programs.

The president has said action on infrastructure will probably have to wait until after November congressional elections, and he has focused instead on trade, immigration and other issues. Congressional committees have held hearings but haven’t advanced a proposal.

The association said it is holding town halls, using social media and running ads using outlets that Trump and congressional leaders are known to watch and read, including newspapers in specific markets and the TV commercial on Fox that features workers in factory settings.

In the ad, the workers say that while there were many promises in the campaign, they definitely remember one -- as a television in the background plays a clip of Trump saying during his election night victory speech, “We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure.”

“It hasn’t happened,” one worker says in the ad, which ends with the message: “Let’s make infrastructure a priority.”

The group plans to spend about $250,000 on the campaign, including the TV ad airing through Aug. 18 and a national poll of registered voters, spokesman David Ward said. The poll, conducted online July 13-14 by Morning Consult, showed that while 74 percent said it’s important for Trump to follow through on his promise to invest $1 trillion in infrastructure, 51 percent aren’t confident he will.

Trump has shown leadership by putting forth a plan, and “we look forward to adding more Republicans to Congress to build on the president’s agenda,” White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said in an email.

Bipartisan Support

Still, it’s disappointing the promised trillion-dollar plan has stalled because infrastructure appeared to be the one thing that could generate bipartisan support and boost spending and jobs, said Jeff Schwarz, group president of Aggregate & Mining - USA for Tennessee-based Astec Industries Inc.

“I thought it would be a win for the Trump administration,” Schwarz said. “It’s absolutely needed.”

The administration was ready to push for infrastructure spending earlier this year, before the school shooting in Florida and other matters took it off the agenda, said Republican Representative Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Shuster, who is leaving Congress at the end of the year, released his own proposal July 23 to spur discussion about fixing infrastructure and shore up the Highway Trust Fund, which pays for road, bridge and transit projects and is projected to become insolvent by 2020.

Gas Tax Increase

His plan includes raising the federal gas tax by 15 cents a gallon over three years and the diesel tax by 20 cents, with a goal of replacing the fuel levies by 2028 with a per-mile-traveled fee or other sources.

Representative Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the top Democrat on the committee, has said there is “zero expectation” there will be action this year. If Democrats take control of the House in the November election, they’ll pursue a measure in the next Congress, he has said.

But Shuster said it’s possible a bill could be considered in a lame-duck session after the election. Regardless of who wins, Democrats won’t want to vote on a tax increase next year, and Republicans should deal with the issue now so they’re not blamed in the 2020 presidential campaign, he said.

“I guarantee you they’re going to use this like a sledgehammer against Republicans and against the president,” Shuster said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.