Clinton public works plan may shrink President-elect eyes scaled-down spending options

January 05, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Although President-elect Bill Clinton pledged in his campaign to spend as much as $80 billion in his first term to rebuild and improve the nation's public works, key advisers say that they now think he is likely to present a substantially scaled-down plan to Congress this month.

In recent weeks, Clinton staff members, advisers and technical experts have sorted through an array of possible capital investments in roads, bridges, transit lines, aviation, water treatment and communications systems to bolster long-term U.S. competitiveness and stimulate future economic development. Although the proposal has been among Mr. Clinton's chief themes, it appears to be losing ground in the choices among spending priorities.

When the program for investment in public works and technology research is unveiled, "I would think it would be a lot less" than the $20 billion-a-year spending plan Mr. Clinton cited in his campaign policy agenda, said one transition team source. "I think that the investment program may be taking a back seat" to other budget needs, including deficit reduction, the source said.

Another Clinton adviser said: "I think there's going to be less available for everything than people had hoped."

The aides stressed that their prediction is based on their own assessments and noted that no decision has been made by Mr. Clinton, who is known for delaying tough choices and occasionally going against even well-researched advice from his aides.

The president-elect has summoned his chief economic counselors to Little Rock Thursday to review the final options on his plan to invigorate the economy. Mr. Clinton has pledged to make the decisions on his proposal by a self-imposed deadline of Inauguration Day.

Among those expected at the meeting are Mr. Clinton's picks for secretary of the treasury, Lloyd Bentsen, and budget director, Leon E. Panetta.

Although Mr. Clinton is expected to have to scale back some proposals because of budget realities, a serious reduction in public works and technology research would raise doubts about the revival plan Mr. Clinton outlined for the nation's economy -- and the central theme of his campaign.

Members of Mr. Clinton's transition team last month presented the president-elect with options for investment that, according to one source, ranged from a plan that calls for no new spending to one proposing a maximum of $80 billion in additional money over five years. Even the most expensive option would fall short of Mr. Clinton's proposal, outlined in the campaign book, "Putting People First." It recommended putting $20 billion a year into a "Rebuild America Fund" to pay for investments in transportation systems, new environmental and information technologies and conversion of defense industries to civilian products.

At the very least, Mr. Clinton is expected to ask Congress to pump an additional $3.8 billion this year into the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, which drastically reorganized federal transportation aid programs and gave states and local governments greater authority to spend highway aid on transit systems.

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