US conservative groups warn against federal infra splurge

In an open letter to Congress, 50 conservative groups led by Americans for Prosperity said any new expense should be offset by spending cuts rather than ‘budget gimmicks’.

A coalition of conservative groups has released a letter urging US lawmakers to “prioritise fiscal responsibility while addressing the nation’s infrastructure needs”, calling for a focus on easing environmental and labour regulations.

The letter, signed by more than 50 conservative groups led by the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity, warned against plans along the lines of the 2009 stimulus, which it said was “chock-full of waste and pet projects and made the nation's fiscal problems worse”. Instead, Congress should reform the environmental review process, including limiting the scope of the National Environmental Review Act, and repealing “draconian” labour regulations including the Davis Bacon Act, the letter stated.

“The concepts in our letter provide a constructive path forward for lawmakers,” American for Prosperity vice-president of external affairs Christine Harbin said. “Washington and state leadership can work together on a plan that protects taxpayers and addresses the nation’s infrastructure needs.”

The groups called for a focus on core infrastructure projects such as highways rather than public transit or beautification projects, while asking that decisions be made on the state or local rather than federal level. Any new spending, the letter said, “should be offset with spending cuts, not tax increases nor budget gimmicks”.

While President Donald Trump has said he will pass a bill aimed at spurring $1 trillion in infrastructure spending, details of his plan have yet to be released. The role of public-private partnerships and private sector capital, which many in Trump’s administration have suggested could increase, was not discussed in the coalition's letter.

Conservatives have generally supported plans to draw in the private sector, though proposals such as tax incentives for investors in infrastructure have been criticised by some conservative groups.