Melanie Zanona THE HILL
Transportation Department Faces Cuts Under Trump Budget
May 23, 2017
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  • Funding for the Department of Transportation (DOT) and a number of popular transportation programs would be slashed under President Trump’s budget request.

    The fiscal 2018 budget proposal, released by the White House on Tuesday, would cut the DOT’s discretionary budget by nearly 13 percent, to $16.2 billion.

    Trump’s spending blueprint would limit funding for the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment program, end federal support for long-distance Amtrak trains and gut funding for the Essential Air Service (EAS) program, the DOT said in a press call.

    The EAS program, which costs taxpayers about $175 million per year, gives small towns and communities access to air service and is used by many red districts.

    The White House spending document also eliminates funding for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, which was set up by the Obama administration’s 2009 economic stimulus package to provide an extra injection of cash for surface transportation projects.

    The grants are appropriated by Congress every year but were never authorized. Scrapping the program would save about $499 million annually.

    TIGER grants are a generally popular funding tool among cities and states, but have drawn the ire of some Republicans. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said at a recent hearing that money for the grants could be put back into the transportation system in a more “holistic” way.

    Trump’s budget would fully fund the Highway Trust Fund through 2021 in the way that lawmakers envisioned when they passed the last highway bill. But Congress will again need to provide a fix for the fund or else it will face a $96 billion dip in funding after 2021.

    “That’s not a cut,” Chao emphasized during a conference call Tuesday. “It’s a drop-off.”

    Trump’s spending blueprint also lays out Trump’s ideas for a $1 trillion infrastructure package, which was included separately as part of the overall budget request.

    It would funnel $200 billion toward transportation projects over 10 years, with the goal of creating $1 trillion worth of overall investment through public-private partnerships.

    “I do know that they’re interested in a significant infrastructure bill, and it sounds like every area of the budget got slashed, but … these are recommendations,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, told reporters Tuesday. “We’ll take into consideration the president’s ideas, but we’ll write the bills.”

    Trump’s budget also calls for shifting air traffic control operations from the federal government to a nonprofit or nongovernmental entity beginning in 2021.

    “The White House budget makes a number of strong recommendations on transportation policy,” said Marc Scribner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

    “The administration deserves credit for embracing bipartisan reform proposals. It is now up to members of Congress to put aside their partisan differences and support these reforms that many of our peer countries have already adopted and have long been championed by informed members of both major U.S. political parties.”

    Trump’s budget proposal was met with some resistance from Democrats, however.

    The office of Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) claimed the proposed increase for an infrastructure plan would essentially be cancelled out by the proposed transportation cuts elsewhere in the budget.

    And Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), ranking member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, slammed the proposal for not fulfilling the funding boost for DOT that was already included and paid for by Congress in the last highway bill.

    “The Trump Budget violates the bipartisan FAST Act funding levels,” DeFazio said in a statement. “The Budget pretends to increase infrastructure investments by $200 billion, but that is a sham.”