Yesterday, President Trump sent his budget to Congress, a “wish list” that reflects his vision for federal discretionary spending. This kicks off the fiscal year 2018 Congressional appropriations season, and the process by which members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees ultimately set the funding levels for these programs. The President’s suggested cuts include $2.4 billion to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), which is surprising given his pledge to improve U.S. infrastructure. In order for the president to increase Department of Defense (DOD) spending by $54 billion and stay budget neutral, discretionary spending faces significant reductions over the previous year. The president has recommended broad spending cuts across many agencies, ranging from the Environmental Protection Agency to the State Department.
Trump’s suggested funding levels only cover a minor portion (roughly one-third) of total federal transportation spending, the rest protected by mandatory spending levels. The proposed infrastructure plan, not yet unveiled, could include increases to mandatory spending as well as discretionary spending in future fiscal years.
The president’s proposed budget reflects a streamlined DOT that focuses on performing vital federal safety oversight functions and investing in nationally and regionally significant transportation infrastructure projects by reducing or eliminating programs that he suggests are inefficient, duplicative or involve activities that are better delivered by states, localities or private sector. Though this reduction is concerning, the proposed budget leaves many other popular transportation programs untouched, such as Federal Aid Highway Program and Airport Improvement Program.
The proposed cuts to USDOT discretionary spending would limit funding for the Federal Transit Administration’s capital investment program (New Starts), eliminate funding for the Essential Air service program and end federal support for long-distance Amtrak trains. It also eliminates funding for 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. They are a popular funding tool among cities and states and Members of Congress and Secretary Chao expressed support for these as well as a long-term, low-interest financing program.
There is broad support for the programs that matter most to our industry, but we must continue to bolster Congressional support through aggressive advocacy because Congress will ultimately write and pass this budget.