Columbia Mayor Benjamin meets with President Trump as $1.5T infrastructure plan unveiled

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin met with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence on Monday to discuss infrastructure needs on the heels of the president's new $1.5 trillion plan.

Benjamin, along with other mayors and state leaders, joined the Trump administration in Washington D.C. to discuss potential improvements to roads, bridges, railroads, seaports, airports and water systems.

Ahead of the meeting, the mayor spoke with MSNBC about what he brings to the conversation.

"In Columbia, we've finished five of the last seven years with a budget surplus, we have a balanced budget," he said. "We have the same tax rate we had 10 years ago, indeed after eight years we actually cut taxes and only restored them to fund our police department with more resources."

Senior White House officials say the president's plan will help fix what it calls a broken infrastructure system. According to the administration, $200 billion in federal funding will be committed over the next 10 years to help stimulate state and local spending. It estimates around half of that funding, or $100 billion, will be used as an incentive to encourage cities, counties and states to raise around 80 percent of the infrastructure costs themselves.

"Actually to me this is a very very sexy subject," Trump said during the meeting. "The media doesn't find it sexy. I find it sexy because I was always a builder. I always knew how to build on time and on budget and that's what we want here."

Critics, however, say the plan will lead to higher state and local taxes and would only lead to projects that could generate revenue, such as toll roads, getting funded.

Trump's plan differs widely from what is currently in place, where funding is typically allocated 80 percent federally and 20 percent coming from the state.

Critics argue the proposed infrastructure plan would essentially flip the burden on to state and local governments.

"We are building great competitive cities on the world stage and I would encourage the president to dialogue with us," Benjamin said. "We are building great competitive cities on the world stage."

The administration said the $200 billion in federal funding would not be new revenue but would instead result from cuts in other areas of the federal budget.

President Trump has also said his administration is looking to streamline the process for the federal environmental review and permitting process for infrastructure construction projects. It says the process can sometimes take five to ten years and is looking to streamline the process to be completed in less than two years.

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