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Building bridges may be Washington D.C.’s greatest undertaking of 2018 – both literally and figuratively.

“Infrastructure – the nation desperately needs to look at it,” said Rodney Alexander, a former congressman and The Picard Group’s senior director of federal affairs.

Emily Bacque, TPG’s director of federal affairs, agreed that a trillion-dollar infrastructure package, the details of which could roll out as early as these first few months of 2018, would impact significantly both the nation and the state of Louisiana including highways, drinking water, sewer projects, roadways, waterways and airports.

“It could include $200 billion in direct funds and $800 billion leveraged from state and local sources,” Bacque said.

Other than the dollar figures, there has been little detail given to the structure of the infrastructure plan the Trump administration has been discussing.

“It’s all speculation at this point because the administration has not released the details,” Bacque said, noting the dollar amount has been released along with a few ideas that point toward some focus on rural areas, which would be of benefit to Louisiana.

But, even a hefty price tag of a trillion dollars doesn’t go far to cover every state, which leaves questions about who and where funds will be targeted toward. She says one of the more interesting aspects of the talks includes transformative projects, which means they would transform the way infrastructure works.

Think Elon Musk-inspired ideas that cover projects along the lines of high-speed rail.

“We are all waiting to see what these transformative projects look like,” Bacque said.

But, the greatest questions surrounding infrastructure are not even on the locations or types of projects, but rather on how to fund them. An otherwise bipartisan matter like building bridges and bettering roadways takes a sharp partisan turn when talks turn to paying for such projects with conservatives eyeing the option of carving out entitlement programs and reallocating to infrastructure as an option for funding.

“We ought to be at a state level and federal level engaged in investigating more in the public-private partnerships,” Alexander said.

The option for private investment could pair with toll roads for an option to fund improvements, Alexander said.

“People that take toll roads will pay to go down it if it meets their needs and what difference is it who gets that money back — if it’s the investment firm or the state as long as we can go down the road safely,” he said. “The question is where will the money come from?”

The big question in funding is likely to come from entitlement reforms, which Alexander said should begin by properly identifying “entitlement.”

“We need to redefine entitlement and what that is. For example, Medicare – we all pay into Medicare so you’re entitled to some of it at some point. Then you have food stamps, welfare, Medicaid, free telephone – those are programs funded by taxpayers that are a gift from the taxpayers but considered entitlements. The court systems have a big role in that now.”

Balancing people and infrastructure can be a tricky endeavor. Alexander points to the example of cutting funding for rural healthcare for use to build better roads.

“If you deprive someone of rural healthcare for a road in a rural area, what does it matter if you’re sick but can’t travel down the road, you can’t get to the healthcare even if it’s available,” he said. “There’s a lot to be concerned about when you say you’re going to reform entitlement programs and use that money for better things. How much better are they? Infrastructure is important. But, at what expense? It’s issues that have to be addressed as we weigh in on this — and you put an election in the middle of it, that makes it even more complicated.”

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