State Watch

Trump budget threatens local transit projects

President Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal 2019 would leave cities and states on the hook for billions of dollars in spending on public transportation projects that are already underway.

The $4.4 trillion budget proposal rolled out this week would cut several grant programs funded by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), an office within the Department of Transportation that issues grants to localities in need of funding for massive transit projects they might not otherwise be able to afford.


The proposal comes at the same time the administration released a plan to spend about $200 billion on infrastructure projects. But observers who follow transportation funding say that plan, combined with a budget that cuts back so much on other infrastructure projects, means the administration has effectively offered little new spending at all.

A study by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, analyzing the administration’s budget requests over the past two years, found total spending on infrastructure could decline by as much as $55 billion over the next ten years. The total increase in federal spending, the study found, would be far less than the $200 billion pledged by the White House.

The budget phases out the FTA’s Capital Improvement Grants (CIG) program over the course of a decade. It would fund the program only enough to close agreements already reached with state and local governments. At the same time, it would eliminate funding for projects that are competing for, but have yet to receive, grants under the FTA’s New Starts program.

It also proposes allocating only 5 percent of new funding for projects that have already been approved. Federal funding would be allowed to account for up to 20 percent of any individual project’s overall cost, foisting much more of the burden onto cities and states.

“These are huge cuts,” said Kevin DeGood, director of infrastructure policy at the liberal Center for American Progress. “This plan is just a fiscal two-by-four to the face.”

The White House did not respond to requests for comment on the proposed cuts. In a briefing Monday, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney did not address cuts to specific transportation funding programs.

Cities and states stand to lose billions in funding for projects that are already moving toward construction. Nationally, more than 70 projects are waiting for funding from the New Starts program, and only about a dozen have been approved.

Sacramento, Calif., is one city waiting for final approval of a major transit project. City leaders have already reached a preliminary agreement with federal officials for a $50 million grant to fund a new streetcar between downtown and West Sacramento.

In the Seattle area, public transit officials are waiting for up to $1.7 billion in funding for extensions of a light rail project into growing suburbs north and south of the city center. City leaders are also hoping for $75 million to fund a new streetcar, and projects in Tacoma, Spokane and Everett are all at risk of losing tens of millions in anticipated funding.

Trump’s infrastructure “plan would essentially throw states a few Legos when what we really need is concrete and steel,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said in a statement. “His $1.5 trillion plan expects state, local and private partners to pick up more than 85 percent of the tab. States cannot and should not bear the burden of building a 21st century infrastructure system on our own.”

In Lake County, Ind., the end of the CIG program would mean an end to funding for a rail extension that would connect the area’s fast-growing suburbs to Chicago’s subway system, known as the West Lake Corridor.

In the Washington, D.C., area, Democrats say the budget would cut funding for the Metro system by slashing the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act by $30 million.

“The president’s budget paints a bleak picture for the future of transit in America,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D), who represents the northern Virginia suburbs. “Nothing could be more indicative of that vision than shortchanging Metro and allowing for the further decline of the national capital’s transit system.”

In addition to the grant programs that help fund local projects, the administration is also proposing to slash in half federal subsidies for Amtrak. The budget proposal calls on states to begin chipping in more for long distance routes the national passenger rail carrier operates. 

Tags budget cuts Donald Trump Federal Transit Administration Gerry Connolly Infrastructure Mick Mulvaney Trump infrastructure plan
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