Sohn: Trump thinks we're dumb, and maybe we are

Sohn: Trump thinks we're dumb, and maybe we are

February 14th, 2018 by Pam Sohn in Opinion Times

Staff file photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press - May 23, 2011 - TVA transmission line crews use two dozers Monday to pull line onto nine new tower structures on the Widows Creek power network near the Widows Creek Coal plant in Stevenson, Ala., in 2011. The old towers were destroyed in a tornado outbreak.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

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Donald Trump's "stable genius" act ratcheted things up a notch Monday when his White House released a $4.4 trillion budget that adds $7 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years and would pay for a $1.5 trillion infrastructure program by — among other things — selling the 16,000 miles of transmission lines that carry TVA's electric power to the EPBs of its seven-state region.

The question is whether Trump's act will ever wear itself out with we lemmings known as Americans.

Aside from the fact that selling TVA or anything TVA owns that produces or carries power is a daft idea, Trump must not have known that it was also a dumb idea some years back when President Barack Obama entertained it.

Certainly if Trump had recalled that Obama had proffered such a misguided suggestion, our current president — the one who claims a "great memory" — wouldn't have touched it.

There are, of course, some things TVA could and should sell — like the two luxury jets and a specialized Mercedes Benz helicopter, formerly used by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. The aircraft — purchased under Bill Johnson's five-year tenure as TVA president and CEO, are worth an estimated $40 million dollars.

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For context, after a 2011 tornado outbreak made steel pretzels out of 353 of TVA's giant transmission towers and 108 major power lines, TVA spent $25 million on 4,000 linemen, 275 miles of wire and 1.4 million pounds of steel to get the power rolling again to 640,000 customers. The work took 74 days.

But, hey, maybe TVA could sell all its transmission lines to Franklin Haney — the aging financier who in late 2016 bought the unfinished Bellefonte Nuclear Plant in North Alabama for a song. We ratepayers, over more than 40 years, spent just shy of $6 billion on that plant, and TVA sold it, along with the 1,600 acres of Tennessee riverfront property around it, to Haney for $111 million.

Truth be told, Haney overspent. TVA's starter asking price was only $36 million. And never mind that four years before, TVA had turned down a $10 billion offer for Bellefonte from Haney and former TVA Chairman Dennis Bottorff.

The Jackson County plant, 62 miles southwest of Chattanooga, has never produced even a spark of electricity.

TVA's transmission lines, on the other hand, actually serve a purpose. Every day, the power grid carries TVA's wholesale electricity to a network of 154 local power providers like EPB. Those local providers, in turn, wheel the power to 9 million people in seven states across the Southeast.

Most of the senators and Congress members in those states were less than supportive of Trump's idea. But Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander was more than just dismissive. He called Trump's proposal "loony" and said it "has zero chance of becoming law."

Wowie zowie, Sen. Alexander. We can't wait to see what @realDonaldTrump labels you.

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But the key here is the complete disconnect of Trump.

The centerpiece of his fairyland budget is a plan to devote $200 billion over the next decade in new spending to improve the country's crumbling infrastructure, starting with $44.6 billion in 2019.

He wants to "improve" infrastructure like TVA's power transmission lines — the same ones he wants to sell to pay for more infrastructure. No doubt for pennies on the dollar, just like Bellefonte.

The president says his plan will generate as much as $1.5 trillion to $1.7 trillion in new investments in building roads, bridges and other major projects over the next 10 years. Here's the kicker: Trump calls it his plan, but somebody else — namely cities and states and occasionally private companies — will pay for it.

It has a familiar ring, just like that big beautiful wall Trump claimed — with absolutely no basis in fact — that Mexico would pay for. Actually Trump's new budget includes $1.6 billion in U.S. dollars for a 65-mile segment of it.

Forget for a moment the numbers in Trump's budget. Just try to reconcile the words:

"We will build, we will maintain, and the vast majority of Americans wants to see us take care of our infrastructure," Trump said Monday at the White House as he released an outline of his plan.

But the plan says our government will compensate for the new infusion of infrastructure spending in part by slashing existing transportation programs. Grants to Amtrak would be halved, from $1.2 trillion to $538 billion, while the Army Corps of Engineers, which manages public infrastructure projects like dams, levees and building a new Chickamauga lock, would be cut by more than 20 percent.

And remember Trump campaigning with this? "Save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security without cuts. Have to do it."

Alas, his plan calls for cuts to social programs, farm subsidies and Medicare providers.

Meanwhile, Trump's budget projects tax revenues to plummet by $3.7 trillion over the 2018-27 decade. That's your tax cuts, remember? Of course, that's another bogus Trump claim. Your tiny tax cuts are really cover for the massive tax cuts of the wealthy, along with welfare for corporations.

So how about it? Should our government and TVA sell our power grid for pennies on the dollar like it did an unfinished nuclear plant and the 1,600 Tennessee riverfront acres around it?

Our president and his White House think Americans are dumb. If we let this happen, we are.

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