Our Opinion: It matters

In terms of our everyday lives, the most important thing President Donald Trump said during his State of the Union speech Tuesday was to call on Congress to approve a campaign to restore and improve the nation’s infrastructure.

We drive potholed roads and cross rusty bridges every day. We fret over higher water bills to repair aging pipelines. We see opportunities for new jobs slip away because we cannot afford new access roads demanded by businesses.

Infrastructure matters, as the president recognizes.

His proposed funding falls short of what many in Congress want – a gigantic political slush fund. Trump’s idea, of leveraging both state and private-sector funding with the federal appropriation, makes more sense.

Even the amount he wants is a massive sum of money, opening up both desirable and unacceptable possibilities. Recall former President Barack Obama’s so-called “stimulus package” of $787 billion. Much of it was wasted on projects invented by politicians, not on taking care of real needs. We simply cannot afford to fritter away billions of dollars in the same manner. Too much genuine need exists.

Congress is likely to approve the president’s request. Lawmakers will not admit their motivation, but it ought to be clear: Once the program is launched, a mad scramble will begin to grab as much money as possible for representatives’ and senators’ home states. Being able to announce City A or County B will receive a bundle of money for a new road can come in handy at re-election time.

Claiming the campaign will be restricted to “shovel-ready” plans, as Obama did, would be both dishonest and unrealistic. Some of the most needed infrastructure projects have never gone past the speculation stage, simply because cities, counties and states could not afford to pay for them. It is precisely those needs that should be attractive for federal funding.

Make no mistake about it: Politics will play a major role in how the infrastructure money is doled out.

But both Trump and fiscal conservatives in Congress should fight tooth-and-nail to keep the money from being poured down politically correct ratholes. Yes, California high-speed rail system, we’re looking at you.

If handled responsibly, Trump’s infrastructure plan can do enormous good. Let us hope it is not done in the same manner as so many past initiatives originating in “the swamp.”