Trump’s First Budget May Zero Out Federal Transit Funding

Photo:  Gage Skidmore via Flickr
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Donald Trump’s first budget will follow a blueprint for extreme spending cuts laid out by the Heritage Foundation, the Hill reports. That could spell disaster for cities, since Heritage recommends eliminating federal support for transit.

Trump’s budget won’t be released for a few more weeks, but according to the Hill, it will draw heavily from a Heritage policy document that calls for taking an axe to conservative targets like the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting [PDF]. Of course, Heritage wants to put transit on the chopping block too.

Republicans have tried to pass draconian budget measures like this before, and they haven’t succeeded. As recently as 2015 there wasn’t enough support within their own party for a similar budget that was proposed in the GOP-controlled House and failed, 132 to 294. In 2012, the Republican House majority couldn’t muster the votes to pass a transportation bill that would have removed the guarantee of federal transit funding.

With a new president and unilateral Republican control of Washington, however, believers in slash-and-burn budgets are clearly emboldened.

Here’s how Heritage wants to gut federal support for transit and rail — these are the programs that Americans who support transit may soon have to defend.

“Phase out” the Federal Transit Administration — $4 billion annually

In Heritage’s worldview, highways are a national concern but transit is not, therefore the federal government should contribute nothing toward transit. The proposal calls for the 20 percent of federal surface transportation spending that currently goes to transit agencies to be eliminated over five years. There would be no real savings, because the money would simply get spent on highways instead.

Heritage says this would give local governments time to come up with replacement funds. In reality, it would plunge transit agency budgets into chaos, disrupt services that tens of millions of Americans rely on, and wreck the economies of major metropolitan areas.

Eliminate major capital investment in transit — $2.2 billion annually

The FTA’s New Starts program is the largest source of capital funding for major transit expansion projects. Heritage notes that it was “used” by the Obama Administration “to advance its ‘smart growth’ (read: anti-driver) agenda.”

If this policy is ever enacted, plans to expand light rail, bus rapid transit, commuter rail, or subways — not to mention critical repairs to the nation’s largest urban rail networks — would be in mortal jeopardy. Huge highway expansions, meanwhile, would continue to receive a federal match covering at least 80 percent of construction costs.

Eliminate funding for Amtrak – $519 million annually

Heritage calls for eliminating operating subsidies to Amtrak immediately, and phasing out capital subsidies over five years. The irony is that Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor service turns a profit, while the operating subsidies prop up a lot of service to far-flung, less populated areas. Cutting the subsidized portion of Amtrak operations isn’t actually popular with GOP lawmakers representing those parts of the country.

Eliminate funding for TIGER – $510 million annually

The TIGER program represents a small share of federal transportation spending, distributing about 50 grants per year directly to local governments and transit agencies. TIGER has funded a large number of bike, pedestrian, and transit projects, like the Indianapolis Cultural Trail and the Tampa Riverwalk.

In her confirmation hearing last week, prospective Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said TIGER was popular with representatives and indicated she would look into expanding funding.

But to Heritage, if you can’t drive on it, the feds shouldn’t be funding it. One TIGER project Heritage singles out is a $10.3 million grant for complete streets in Lee County, Florida. Just this month that part of the state was named the most dangerous metro area in the nation for walking. Heritage refers to the project as a “‘Complete Street Initiative’ (read: more congestion).”

Eliminate subsidy for WMATA — $153 million annually

The DC transit agency is already in a budget crisis, and painful service cuts are on the way. WMATA is also in the midst of a major Metro repair and maintenance program to prevent critical safety failures that have recently plagued the system. The sudden loss of federal funding would put the agency in a tailspin and potentially cripple the nation’s capital.

  • AlTate

    Noper, but I am sure it comforts you to believe that

  • bolwerk

    That argument is put to lie by the fact that he was thumping the orange turd in the polls more than the “electable” candidate.

    It also presupposes Americans are too stupid to tell the difference between social democratic policies and Eastern bloc authoritarianism.

  • AlTate

    Sanders would have been painted as quasi-communist, which is always the kiss of death in electoral campaigns. Do you really think he could become a Senator in any state other than quirky Vermont?

    Sure, he might have won Wisconsin. But he would have lost a good number of States that even HRC managed to not lose.

  • JDRCRASHER

    The hypocrisy is so great in this it’s sickening…

  • Joe

    Belated, tardy thanks.

  • neroden

    I don’t think they can even get 50 votes in the Senate. At least 2 of the rural-state Senators are strong Amtrak supporters; both Texas Senators will oppose cuts to mass transit funding (which funds Houston and Dallas)… et c.

  • neroden

    I know. The claims that Hillary was more “electable” drove me screaming mad, because the evidence was that she was a very poor campaigner and a hard-to-elect candidate.

  • neroden

    Not meaningful numbers because you’re excluding caucus states.

  • neroden

    Don’t forget that fascists are actually to the left of aristocrats. 😛 I think a lot of people have forgotten that aristocracy is an actual political system, and one which the world is drifting back into. And it’s an *extremely* right-wing system.

  • neroden

    Damn right she was less electable. All you had to do was look at the general election polling, before the primary was over. Sanders was more electable than Clinton vs. any Republican candidate, full stop. By about 5 percent.

    It would have been enough. Sigh.

  • neroden

    Nobody gives a damn about “communism”. The US has been friends with Communist China since the 1960s. The US was friends with the USSR starting with Gorbachev in the 1980s.

    NOBODY UNDER THE AGE OF 40 IN THE US HAS ANY NEGATIVE MEMORIES OF COMMUNISM.

    Communism is, in fact, more popular than Congress last I checked.

  • neroden

    Well, if you want to live in your own little fantasy world of “alternative facts”, AlTate, feel free.

    I’ve actually studied the political science — the polling, the demographics, the surveys…. the whole lot. I’m right and you’re full of shit.

    It doesn’t comfort me at all that people who are full of shit like you gave that loser Clinton the nomination and therefore handed Trump the Presidency.

  • neroden

    You can believe your counterfactual little fantasy scenario about “swing voters” — it’s a free country, you’re free to believe lies — but if you actually go read the political science studies, you’ll find out you’re full of shit.

  • bolwerk

    At least when it comes to rhetoric, but also sometimes even outcomes, fascists are arguably to the left of liberals when it comes to economics. The bellicose nationalism of fascists leads them to believe the nation-state is a big family that should take care of its own, so fascists are fine with social programs as long as they don’t benefit people they don’t include inside the nation.

    Once that is understood, the backlash against neolibs like Hillary and the Republican establishment becomes easy to understand.

    However, traditional conservatives are also to the left of liberals on economics.

  • djconnel

    Just eliminate all federal transit funding. I’m tired of my tax dollars going to pork-padded road projects. Real transportation change is always local.

  • J Iley

    The PENIS has lost his mind

  • AlTate

    Nope, you’re wrong. Few things are more well known than that centrist swing voters decide elections. Look how few it took to swing from Obama to Trump. some say it was less than 100,000.

  • AlTate

    I never supported Clinton. I knew she would lose.

  • AlTate

    The “commie” label still works. Heck, the “liberal” label still works

  • CeeTee55

    I agree, except for the Interstate highways and airports.

  • Robin R

    This funding also serves rural areas. When it is done well it can be cost effective for medical access, education and employment. If your parents cannot afford to give you a car it can be difficult to keep a job or get to your local community college or university. In one rural community the benefit of $100k to meet medical trip needs saved $1.2-$9 million dollars. Equity can be the right to make bad decisions. If kids can’t get skills training or to work we are making that bad choice for them. They are going to pay my social security I want them to be productive.

  • Bill Winkelman

    If the airlines had to support themselves without the help of the federal government, air travel would become prohibitively expensive. Everything about passenger airplanes and the support system that has to go with them is extremely expensive. Air travel would become the luxury it really would be without the huge subsidies that come from the federal government. Getting from Los Angeles to New York in just a few hours is, in fact, a luxury. As a taxpayer, I don’t like subsidizing luxury. Going after Amtrak is crazy. If anything should be subsidized, it’s Amtrak. Developing the rail system would be a more productive use of the money that is otherwise devoted to air travel.

  • Jim Maloney

    Trump won by appealing to rural voters who felt they had been ignored long enough. Now he wants to take Amtrak–often their only source of non-auto intercity transportation connectedness–away from them? He is getting some very bad advice from Heritage.

  • NYrByChoice

    Not just the Federal govt, but also state and local governments that actually own and develop the airports.

  • Edward LOrusso

    this budget will never pass so im not worried, the good old boys in congress, know what to do to keep themselves in office

  • Mark

    The point is if you review a lot of the rail projects that have received large amounts of money, they are not experiencing an increase in ridership. Not even small percentage gains. They are losing ridership. And if you do get a successful rail project, the bus lines get gutted and then the bus lines start screaming for money to subsidize them. Now take the San Francisco BRT projects. The SFMTA sees money available from the FTA. They apply for these monies. They fib about data and statistics they use to come up with hair-brained time saving analysis. When you break down their data, it turns out they never considered the other options, like the “No Build” option which is an incremental improvement project without the high price tag, because they want that Federal money in their transit organization. Money like this attracts made-up projects. Google the FTA and see how many messed up projects for bus and rail throughout the country exist, funded with FTA grant money. There is one in Hawaii…everyone told the transportation authority that it was a waste of money. The local agency sold the idea to the FTA, the thing is way behind budget and is sucking wind and the FTA is trying to distance themselves from a lawsuit by the local population. Because the project wasted local funds too. It is all a big money grab to get construction jobs and keep transit employees living the good life.

  • Bradley Kramer

    Many media sources are saying that Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) is Amtrak’s ONLY profitable service. Let’s get something straight: The NEC is not, I repeat NOT, profitable. Amtrak routinely shifts much of the NEC’s costs and adds them to the National System trains, giving the appearance of NEC profitability and National System staggering losses.

    Go ahead, end long distance service. With nowhere to hide their huge costs, the NEC will immediately show unimaginable losses. And then criminal trials of Amtrak officials will take place, starting with Wick Moorman and proceeding all throughout Amtrak’s managerial hierarchy. Wick Moorman’s reputation as a sterling businessman will go down in flames.

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