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Proposed Trump budget makes billion-dollar cuts in city transportation, development funds

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Mayors: “mortally wounds the places where the majority of Americans live, work and play”

Los Angeles Expo Line
The Los Angeles Expo Line. The city’s new light rail extension was funded in part by programs that would be impacted by cuts in the proposed Trump administration budget for 2018.
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The numbers are in. The preliminary 2018 federal budget proposal was released by the Trump administration today, and it doesn’t look good for urban infrastructure funding.

The “blueprint budget” offers a series of sizable cuts in domestic spending, totaling $54 billion, including reductions that would target transportation funding, community development, and public housing. If this budget is adopted by Congress, these cuts could create massive shortfalls in city and local budgets and hinder future plans for reinvesting in urban communities.

The Lynx Light Rail line in Charlotte, North Carolina, benefitted from New Starts transportation grant money.
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Transportation

The proposed Transportation Department budget of $16.2 billion—a 13 percent cut—would impact a host of programs that benefit both urban and rural communities. Such programs have been championed by mayors and city planners across the country, from Seattle to Orlando to expand rail and bicycle networks and create pedestrian-friendly streetscapes.

The New Starts program, which helps fund local transportation projects costing over $300 million (a sister program, Small Starts, assists with projects under that threshold), would be frozen. New applications to the program, which currently has $2.3 billion to spend annually through 2020, would be outright rejected, limiting any new grants and placing the onus on local and state government to fund additional projects. (Existing, in-process projects would still be able to draw from available funds.)

As noted by Streetsblog (“Trump’s Budget Takes an Axe to Transit”), New Start only makes up five percent of federal surface-transportation spending; the bulk of the budget, which provides grants to state transportation departments for roads and highways, won’t be affected. However, the New Starts program has been critical for mass transit expansion in cities across the country; the 2017 budget includes funding for light rail extensions in Boston, Charlotte, Portland, and Los Angeles, among others.

Streetblog writer Yonah Freemark compiled current applications for funding and found that dozens of cities and municipalities had been angling for New Start grant money for new transportation projects.

The new budget would also seek a half-billion reduction in TIGER grants, the economic recovery infrastructure program launched by President Obama in 2009. To date, the TIGER program has provided $5.1 billion for more than 400 road, rail, port, and transit projects. In 2016 alone, grants were awarded to programs of all sizes, all across the country: a complete streets upgrade in Broward, Florida; bus rapid transit expansion in Oakland, California; upgrades and improvements to Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive in Atlanta, Georgia; and new bike lanes in Cleveland, Ohio.

These transportation cuts square with the policy proposals in the 2016 Republican party platform, which suggested phasing out and eventually cutting all federal funds for transit, walking, and biking programs in favor of highway and roadway funding.

As NACTO, the National Association of City Transportation Officials, noted in a statement about the budget draft today, which they said was a “disaster for cities and their transportation systems,” the cuts to the Department of Transportation, “while hitting critical programs, do not ultimately add up to even half of the touted $2.4 billion, 13 percent reduction. As the overall proposed budget for this agency is already lean, it is concerning that other anticipated cuts were not specified in the summary.”

Community Development

Trump’s plan would also eliminate Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), a 42-year-old local infrastructure program that is administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Community Development Block Grant program, which received $3 billion in funding for fiscal year 2017, supports anti-poverty, community building, and infrastructure projects across the country—for which 1,185 city, county, and state governments received money last year. Programs range from neighborhood development like new city parks and downtown revitalization projects (Ozark, Missouri’s $20 million DREAM initiative), to anti-poverty initiatives such as Meals-on-Wheels for seniors and helping fund or rehab community centers and local libraries.

According to a statement by The United States Conference of Mayors, the cuts would be significant:

“Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds are the heart, lungs, and backbone of cities and counties, small, medium and large. By eliminating or cutting them, the Administration mortally wounds the places where the majority of Americans live, work and play. Such a move risks ending or harming programs that keep Americans safe, help them find better-paying jobs, improve their health and keep public facilities in good shape. It is an attack on places the President said he wanted to help.”

Public Housing

Finally, the Trump proposal would slash funding for public housing maintenance provided by HUD. Potential cuts include reductions in the public housing capital fund ($1.3 billion) and the public housing operating fund ($600 million). At a time when many state and local housing authorities already have significant deferred maintenance issues, an absence of federal funding could be devastating. (For example, two-thirds of the New York City Housing Authority’s budget comes from federal funds.)

The proposal does not seek to impact the housing voucher programs, such as Section 8, which provide what is considered “immediate” assistance to many low-income Americans. But reducing capital funding means existing public housing buildings will deteriorate at a faster rate, further straining government resources.

These cuts, and others proposed by the administration, will likely affect marginalized and disadvantaged communities the most. Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League, told the New York Daily News that this budget proposal signifies the administration’s impending "assault on poor people in America."