WASHINGTON — All the reviews are in and the pundits have spoken. Bottom line is that despite a $2.5 billion cut in funding for the Transportation Department under President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget, safety programs and infrastructure projects will escape the chopping block.
The proposed FY2018 budget “preserves the ongoing safety programs at the heart of our department’s mission,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao wrote in a blog on the DOT website. “In addition, it reaffirms the president’s strong commitment to modernizing our country’s outdated infrastructure with a strategic, targeted program of investments that will improve our economy, strengthen competitiveness and create jobs. The program will encompass common-sense regulatory, administrative, organizational and policy changes that will speed project delivery.”
Chao called the budget a “strategic document that looks to the future and is designed to send a clear message on deficit reduction.”
The cut amounts to 13 percent of the department’s current budget of just more than $16 billion a year.
Eight federal departments or agencies will incur percentage declines larger than the DOT, headed by the Environmental Protection Agency at 31 percent.
The DOT budget moves what has been a core government function — air traffic control — outside of government hands, and pushes responsibility for many transit and other projects to localities. It also:
Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, admitted that the budget appears to cut back on infrastructure programs.
“You will see reductions, for example, in other agencies on infrastructure programs,” he said in previewing the budget. “And people might say, well, goodness gracious, that doesn’t line up with what the president said about a commitment to infrastructure. That was done intentionally.
“Because we believe those programs to be less efficient than the infrastructure package that we're working on for later on this year. So what we've effectively done is try to move money out of existing, more inefficient programs, and hold that money for what we expect to be more efficient infrastructure programs later on.”
The highly competitive TIGER grant program was created by former President Barack Obama in 2009 to help jump start the economy.
The program supports innovative projects, including multi-modal and multi-jurisdictional projects, which are difficult to fund through traditional federal programs.
Since 2009, the TIGER grant program has provided a combined $5.1 billion to 421 projects in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and tribal communities. These federal funds leverage money from private sector partners, states, local governments, metropolitan planning organizations and transit agencies, according to DOT. The 2016 TIGER round alone is leveraging nearly $500 million in federal investment to support $1.74 billion in overall transportation investments.
“This budget announcement is the start of national dialogue about our country’s priorities for the future and how best to manage the tax dollars we are given,” Chao said. “I look forward to working with the Department, Congress and the various stakeholders on the opportunities ahead.”