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Mnuchin deflects questions on infrastructure at budget hearing

Lawmakers on the House tax writing committee peppered Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin with questions on how the administration plans to finance its trillion-dollar infrastructure plan but got few concrete answers.

The hearing was called to examine President Donald Trump's 2019 budget.

Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Texas, asked Mnuchin about what types of programs the administration is contemplating to enable cities and states to finance the capital required to submit projects as part of the president's infrastructure plan.

"My cities and state is excited about the new infrastructure plan. They are beginning to scratch their heads a little bit about how they will finance that plan and … what projects they'll put forward that will fit the formula," said Marchant, who hails from the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. "Is there any thought to going back and creating an instrument such as the Build America bond that was so popular years ago? Is there any interest or any plans to go back and look at that kind of a funding system that cities can tap so they can put their part of the capital into those projects or a similar instrument to that?"

Mnuchin was noncommittal on what funding mechanisms might be made available to states looking to fund projects, but added, "we obviously look forward to working with Congress on infrastructure, which is an important part of the president's agenda and how we finance it as you said."

Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., asked Mnuchin how the infrastructure plan will ensure rural communities like hers are not left out when it comes to bidding for projects.

"The administration's entire infrastructure plan is about leveraging a small federal investment through profit-driven investors. If there's no profit to be made, it sounds like the same folks who've been left behind before are going to be left behind again," DelBene said. "Can you tell me, do those investors plan to fund projects in struggling rural communities … when these communities won't necessarily provide a lucrative return, but they desperately need infrastructure investments to support farmers and families and small businesses?"

Mnuchin said he agreed with DelBene's assessment.

"There are many projects that won't have returns for investors, and they need to be funded through either federal dollars or state dollars," he said. "Public-private partnerships are not appropriate for everything."