Democrat says president makes empty promise of billions for road and bridge work, but no specifics.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: PETER WONG - U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., speaks on Thursday, Feb. 1, about the need for federal aid for road and bridge repairs near one of the pillars of the Marquam Bridge, which carries Interstate 5 across the Willamette River in Portland. In the background is the Hawthorne Bridge, which is maintained by Multnomah County.U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden says President Donald Trump ought to put his money where his mouth is on how he wants to raise billions to fix the nation's roads and bridges.

"For two years, the president has been making all these fancy promises about how we are going to rebuild infrastructure — our roads and bridges — and he doubled down on it Tuesday night," Wyden said Thursday, Feb. 1, at a gathering just below the Marquam Bridge in Portland

"But the fact is that he would not even have paid for the first part, let alone the higher price tag.

"We want it understood that the way you improve roads and bridges … is not by some kind of scam, but by saying you are going to get the funds to make it happen."

Wyden is the top Democrat on the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee.

Wyden said Trump missed a chance to offer details in the State of the Union speech on Tuesday.

Trump said he wants a total of $1.5 trillion over several years, higher than the $1 trillion Wyden and other Senate Democrats proposed last year, mostly from ending tax breaks. But administration sources say only $200 billion of the total would come from the federal budget, and that would be offset by other spending cuts.

The rest would have to come from state and local governments.

Oregon is among 30 states that have raised fuel taxes and other fees on their own in recent years — Oregon did so just last year — to raise more money for road and bridge work.

Wyden said Trump could have endorsed a bipartisan plan to tap a share of the $2.6 trillion that multinational corporations are expected to bring back to the United States as a result of sharply lower tax rates in the tax code overhaul Trump signed Dec. 22.

But Republican majorities finally declined to draw public works funding from what is known as "repatriation" in the tax bill.

"I wanted to use some of that money repatriated from overseas for jobs at home," Wyden said. "We still have not heard from Republicans about where they are going to get federal dollars. But you have a sense of what I was for."

Wyden's 2009 plan

Wyden has offered a retooled version of federally subsidized bonds as a specific alternative.

In 2009, he was the author of Build America bonds, for which the federal government paid part of the interest costs. The bonds became part of the economic stimulus legislation signed by President Barack Obama. Between March 2009 and their end in December 2010, the bonds raised $181 billion for public works projects, many of them public-private partnerships.

Unlike 2017 votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act and enact the federal tax overhaul, both done under a rule allowing them to pass with only simple majorities, it will take at least 60 votes to move an infrastructure funding bill through the Senate. (The health care repeal failed, although one of the law's provisions was dropped later in the tax overhaul.)

"We have a president who continues talk of wanting to build walls," said Maurice Rahming, co-owner of O'Neill Construction in Portland. "We are fortunate we have a senator who wants to build not only infrastructure, but also pathways for communities to get together to employ all races in livable-wage jobs."

State Bridge Engineer Bruce Johnson and union officials also spoke at the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry, which sits below the Marquam Bridge.

A chosen location

The location of the gathering was no accident. The Marquam Bridge, which carries Interstate 5 on Portland's East Side, is among the bridges in need of reinforcement against a severe earthquake.

According to the Oregon Department of Transportation, about 80 percent of 2,736 bridges in the state highway system are not distressed — but 60 are rated as "structurally deficient," and 514 have other faults. In ODOT's Region 1, which covers the Portland metro counties, 13 bridges are structurally deficient and 150 have other faults.

ODOT has put in a major effort to fix bridges since 2003, when two-thirds of a $2.5 billion package was spent on upgrading bridges on key freight routes.

ODOT's Johnson said the latest $5.2 billion plan, which the Legislature approved in 2017, will help.

"We need investment to make our system more resilient," he said. "That takes money…

"It (the 2017 law) is going to go a long way toward patching our bridges, doing some rehabilitation and keeping our infrastructure moving. It's going to make a little dent in the seismic issue. But it's not going to solve all of our problems."

Virtually all of Oregon's major construction unions were represented at the event.

"We are all excited about the opportunity to rebuild our infrastructure," said Gary Young, business manager for Local 49 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. "We know it's in great disrepair."

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