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.

  • neroden

    That’s a completely distorted and meaningless number due to caucus states, kevd.

    The fact is that Clinton eked out a narrow win in the primary because she was supported by a slight majority among *registered Democrats*. (A smaller majority than the numbers you’re quoting, but yes, it was a majority.)

    Unfortunately, Sanders was much more popular than Clinton among independents.

    So the Democrats nominated the LESS ELECTABLE candidate, as I was saying all along.

    It turns out this election was largely about TPP, TTIP, NAFTA, free trade, etc. The candidates AGAINST “free trade” (Sanders and Trump) were going to win the general election against any establishment pro-free-trade candidate.

  • neroden

    If Sanders had been the nominee, Trump would have lost decisively. It’s quite obvious.

    Trump won in the Rustbelt by telling workers that they’d been cheated by NAFTA, free trade, bankers, etc. and that he would fix that.

    What was Sanders’s message? Hint: it was very similar.

    What was Clinton’s message? The opposite.

  • neroden

    There are no moderate centrist swing voters. They’re a myth. You can Google this, there’s solid poltical science research on this. They DO NOT EXIST.

    The elections are, in actual fact, decided by cranky independents who are ultra-right-wing on some issue and ultra-left-wing on others. For instance, Communist gun nuts, and anti-abortion union members, and free-love anarchocapitalists. There are lots of these weirdos.

    In this case, it was the racist, sexist, pro-union, pro-redistribution-of-wealth group who swung the election. In Scranton, for example. Sanders would have won that crowd; Clinton had no chance; Trump made a calculated and successful appeal to them despite having an anti-union history.

  • neroden

    As stated in my previous comment, you are engaging in outright self-serving speculation by imagining that there are “moderate centrist swing voters”.

    No such thing. Go learn the real demographics, you’ll see why Sanders had a better chance in the general election than Clinton.

    Incidentally, the polls ALWAYS showed that Sanders would do better in the general election than Clinton. By about 5 percentage points. All along. Beginning to end.

    Imagining anything else is self-serving speculation.

  • neroden

    Arizona always votes Republican.

    Nevada has the same dynamics as Pennsylvania and Ohio, Bernie would have won it.

    North Carolina is basically solidly Democratic now, but still quite sexist. Bernie would have won by larger margins than Clinton.

    Virginia is one of only two states which actually votes FOR Beltway Establishment Elite Thinking (because the electorate is dominated by federal government employees) so against *any establishment* Republican, Bernie would have lost Virginia — but against Trump, Bernie would have won Virginia.

    Florida’s whacky and hard to predict and probably would have gone for Trump, because they often vote for the stupidest candidate, but that’s Florida for you…

  • neroden

    The polls actually said, repeatedly and clearly, that Sanders had a better chance of winning the general election than Hillary. Average of a 5 point advantage.

  • neroden

    Sanders had an extremely good chance of becoming President. The hard part was winning the primary, *as I said in advance*, and he didn’t quite manage to pull that off. If he had won the primary, the general election was easy for him.

  • kevd

    Fair point about caucuses, and one I had not considered – always having lived in states with primaries.
    While we can argue that closed primaries are not the best way to select candidates (and I would say resulted in the worse candidate getting the nomination) I would like to point out that they were not an “unfair” way to select a candidate, as some Bernie supporters like to claim – as if it would have been fair to change existing primary rules in a way that would have favored their (well, our) prefered candidate.

    “It turns out this election was largely about TPP, TTIP, NAFTA, free trade, etc. The candidates AGAINST “free trade” (Sanders and Trump) were going to win the general election against any establishment pro-free-trade candidate.”
    Certainly partially. It was also partially about white resentment. It was also about anti-elitism among the less educated. It was about a lot of things, some of while would have been significant negatives for Sanders as well.
    Now, I would have prefered he been nominated, but I think it’s a bit overly simple to state blankly that he “would have won” or he “would have lost 99% of the counties” as some people are doing. Frankly, we don’t know what would have happened. Who knows what completely-innocuous-but-seemingly-damning-to-the ill-informed info that Julien Assange had on him?

  • Patrick Jackson

    Arizona (and Georgia) were REALLY close this year, with high minority populations and transplants.

    Nevada has the dynamics of a slightly more liberal Arizona.

    North Carolina is definitely not solidly democrat, and can only be won by a democrat who appeals to minorities and moderates.

    Virginia was surprisingly close, and low turnout among the democratic establishment would have flipped it to Trump.

    Florida is only won by Democrats who appeal to minorities (which Bernie does not)

  • madflower

    Since most coal is transported by rail, doesn’t this effectively shut down the coal industry?

  • Olog Hai

    The freight railroads are not owned and operated by the federal government.

  • Joe

    You got it right in most respects in regards to transportation.

    Impeach & try Trump, you get Pence. Pence IS “Heritage” Foundation and even gave them a full keynote: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8njxpgRnes

    What does that tell you?

  • Xavier Harmony

    Elaine Chao was a fellow at the Heritage Foundation so that’s something to keep in mind

  • TG2017

    Reminder: Pence supported the Indiana state ban on light rail when Indianapolis was seeking permission to hold a referendum for transit financing.

  • Richard Ruffner

    Not if it is part of a budget, so it goes through the budget reconciliation process, aka 50 votes

  • Mario Carranza

    Less electable? So… winning more votes in the primaries than your opponent and obtaining nearly 3 million more votes than your opponent in the general election renders a candidate “less electable”? Are we in Bizarro World??

  • Ted Vanegas

    So public transportation and passenger rail would be a thing of the past under this administration? The negative impact to the economy would greatly outweigh any federal savings that would be gained from this action.

  • ChooChooMan

    Coal will continue to die a slow and agonizing death as long as natural gas is abundant and affordable. (Plus I believe they recently found a massive new reserve in West Texas, could be wrong there). This is what has hurt the coal industry the most. Not EPA regulations or anything of that sort.

    What will be harmed by this, as stated in the article. is AMTRAK.

    Or, in other words – The war on services that are predominately used by the poor and middle classes has begun.

    I

  • Andrew Selden

    Heritage Foundation doesn’t know what they are talking about. Their argument is ignorant AND naive. They have been completely bamboozled by Amtrak.
    First, the APT reports of NEC “profits” and everything else “losses” are totally bogus, because APT doesn’t report profit and loss (it is a synthetic cost allocator), but an arbitrary assessment of what other trains would have to contribute to cover NEC infrastructure spending to bring Amtrak as a whole to breakeven. APT doesn’t even include NEC fixed facility costs in these reports.
    You can see these yourself at page A-1.4 of the September Monthly Report. They totalled $1.6 billion, and about 95% of that is annual upkeep on the NEC. In FY’16, Amtrak had to defer $473 million in authorized NEC maintenance AND apply 100% of the available, unallocated, federal subsidy to cover that spending.
    Take away the annual subsidy, and the first trains to shut down will be the NEC, just like David Gunn said.
    The numbers that Heritage used are unaudited, not GAAP-compliant, and not comparable from one period to the next. Evidently, Heritage doesn’t understand that.
    Because 100% of the unallocated subsidy went to prop up the NEC and its billion-plus infrastructure costs, that means in turn that no cash was left over to be used on anything else, demonstrating that the regional corridor trains AND the long distance trains did not lose any money because they consumed zero federal cash.
    We have no doubt that Amtrak would commit a political assassination of the non-NEC trains in a New York heartbeat in order to leverage the continued subsidy needed to keep the NEC running. But that’s NOT where the cash goes.

  • Claude

    “It’s a bureaucracy. Nothing’s supposed to get done.”

  • rckk

    The Heritage Foundation was one of the organizations that actually believed that sending troops into Iraq was a stroke of genius and that it was possible to implement democracy there.

  • madflower

    Oh yes they do.
    “FRA supports passenger and freight railroading through a variety of
    competitive grant, dedicated grant, and loan programs to develop safety
    improvements, relieve congestion, and encourage the expansion and
    upgrade of passenger and freight rail infrastructure and services. FRA
    also provides training and technical assistance to grantees and
    stakeholders.”
    https://www.fra.dot.gov/Page/P0021

  • madflower

    West texas did open up a new reserve for NG.

    AMTRAK and all light rails and all freight rails.

    I don’t think autonomous vehicles are quite to the point you can ignore trains. nor do I think cities can handle the congestion of the extra traffic and parking required.

  • Richard

    Federal funding for it would be.
    The cuts now wouldnt be felt for several years, by which point the GOP wont care.

  • ATP Funding?

  • Ted Vanegas

    Well, without federal funding many communities won’t be able to fund public transportation. The state I live in doesn’t have dedicated funding for public transportation. Cities have to come up with federal match dollars out of their general funds.

  • Olog Hai

    Does that mean that the FRA owns and operates? No. They’re an onerous (and unconstitutional, especially in the financing area) regulatory agency, but they are not owners and operators.

  • bolwerk

    Republikans hated Trump when they thought he was a sure loser for them. They seem to mind him much less now that he won.

  • bolwerk

    The first point is funny too, because Democrats were all convinced that Hillary was “electable” and Sanders wasn’t. And Trump wasn’t.

    Did they learn their lesson? Probably not.

  • bolwerk

    Yeah, those things could all be left-ish or right-ish though. They are not so much left-wing as anti-[neo?]liberal. Sanders had left-ish reasons to support those policies and Trump had right-ish ones. The implementations end up being radically different.

  • bolwerk

    I wouldn’t entirely dismiss Larry’s point there. Granted, it wasn’t superdelegates that presented this inevitability; it was the media narrative. Sanders was more popular than Trump with the general public, but somehow Trump merited $2 billion in free TV news PR while Sanders was pretty marginalized.

    That, and the Dems suddenly become a lot less democratic* about letting newcomers into the process when it wasn’t a general election.

    * they’re already not democratic

  • bolwerk

    Damn right she was less electable. Both parties managed to nominate people who were not popular with the general public, turning the election into an unpopularity contest.

    I suspect even O’Malley would have mopped the floor with Trump. Sanders certainly would have because he negated basically all the advantages Trump had over a neoliberal Democrat.

  • bolwerk

    Sanders isn’t particularly left-wing anyway, but setting that aside here are three major reasons to think he could have beaten Trump:

    1) While it was studied, he mopped the floor with Trump in polls while Clinton was only a few points ahead. The polling for Clinton vs. Trump turned out to be a accurate predictor for the popular election result too!

    2) And if that’s not enough, when you actually poll people’s opinions on policies rather than their opinions on politicians, Sanders’ policies are pretty close to the mainstream on every major issue from social security to guns.

    3) The states Trump poached from Clinton had people who found Trump’s economic populism appealing. Sanders would have negated that advantage, while being more “moderate” (I’m using the term loosely to mean not bar-chewing playing-with-your-own-dung nuts) on social issues that the Dems thought Hillary would win on.

    (Why would a thinking “moderate” person vote for Trump over Sanders? Are “moderates” motivated entirely by cutting off their noses to spite their faces?)

  • bolwerk

    In orthodox political science, centrist means you have an ideology that resembles the people who sat in the middle seats of the French National Assembly.

    That’s right. American political dialogue is based on 17th century feng shui. You didn’t want the peasant activiists and capitalists, sitting on the left, hitting the aristocrats, sitting on the right, with a cane. So the reformists were put between them.

    Truth be told, most Democratic candidates are quite close to centrist. It doesn’t seem to help them win elections.

  • bolwerk

    How does Bernie not appeal to minorities? He happened to run against a candidate who is extremely popular with, and had strong name recognition with, minorities (but not non-minorities, whatever the hell you call those). That doesn’t mean he doesn’t appeal to them.

  • bolwerk

    If I had to guess, I’d say there was only one Democrat on the first Democratic debate stage who was practically doomed when fielded against Trump. And they nominated her.

    Seriously, I’m not sure they could have done worse with anyone who showed ambition to run. Maybe Bloomberg was worse, given that his oblisse noblige maybe offenders flyover state people even more than Hillary’s mendacity, but he wasn’t going to run as a Democrat. Almost anyone else – Warren, Biden, even O’Malley – probably started with a cleaner slate.

  • Patrick Jackson

    He would have lower turnout among minorities.

  • bolwerk

    The only surprise there was Brexit, and even then polls were pretty predictive. The safe bet according to the polls was a narrow Brexit lose, and the outcome with a fairly narrow Brexit win.

    With Hillary, unfortunately people looked at the wrong metrics, but the polls themselves called the popular outcome pretty well.

    One lesson the media should learn from this is not to use polls as evidence of inevitability. That itself probably alters the result.

  • bolwerk

    I think much modern polling is adjusted according to various predictor-criterion correlations. Basically, you call a lot of people, get their opinions on various issues and ask how they are going to vote. You then feed that data into some kind of model that generalizes across the population based on your sampling.

    The downside to that is you need to make assumptions about how people believing certain issues respond to candidates, and that might vary if the candidate is altered drastically. Trump was a lot different than any major party candidate who ran in 40 years, so assumptions that applied to Romney may not apply to Trump.

  • bolwerk

    He objectively held policy positions more in line with the interests of minorities than Clinton. What reason on Earth is there to think he’d depress turnout among minorities?

  • Patrick Jackson

    He didn’t excite them, and Clinton has spent more time actually among them, building up trust. She has a positive reputation built up throughout her lifetime.

    PS. I think minorities are the best judges of what is best for them.

  • bolwerk

    He didn’t exactly bother them in any way, much less insult them. Even if, for sake of argument, I credited that Clinton excited minorities and that apathy toward Sanders would have kept some of them home,* quantify this: how many minorities would have stayed home because of Sanders, and how does it overcome the impairment Clinton clearly had with whites including white women?

    * so a candidate even more openly racist than Clinton could win? This is an absurd notion, of course.

    PS. No you don’t.

  • bolwerk

    I never really thought Sanders had a good chance at winning the primary. The problem is he spent his career eschewing all the trappings of power in DC: the wheeling/dealing, the relationships, fundraising.

    That said, he might have a chance next time now that he is a more established player. OTOH, he is old as hell.

  • Patrick Jackson

    Our debate is that Sanders would not have won. Gains made by Sanders with the WWC in the rust belt would be matched by minority losses elsewhere. He would not have picked up enough WWC votes to offset lower total minority turnout in a Trump vs. Sanders race. Minorities really like Clinton, and are apathetic about Sanders. While some would turn out to vote against Trump, it is a fact that you get higher turnout with someone to vote for, rather than just someone to vote against.

    PS. Why would you say that?
    You’re the one who said Sanders had the better positions for minorities.

  • bolwerk

    Why? What empirical evidence supports your assertion that minorities would sit on their hands for Sanders against Trump of all people? In fact, for all this supposed trust and excitement, minority turnout for Clinton rather unexpectedly dropped. So…

    While some would turn out to vote against Trump, it is a fact that you
    get higher turnout with someone to vote for, rather than just someone to
    vote against.

    …if you factor this assertion about “vote for” in, maybe she did worse among minorities when you factor in independents than Sanders hypothetically would have?

    I suspect that is precisely why Sanders did so much better than Clinton against Trump overall. He had policies that were materially in the interest of the general public, while Clinton promoted much more conservative policies. Most people who weren’t partisan Democrats saw it.

  • Patrick Jackson

    Most minorities would have turned out, but a 5? drop in minority turnout can flip states. Also, you’re portrayal of what is best for the general public/minorities is self righteous. Many intelligent people disagree.

  • bolwerk

    Again, even if I credited that conjecture (and it is conjecture) that Sanders would reduce minority turnout, it must be weighed against the penalty Clinton suffered for…well, being Clinton, which is not conjecture. Clinton may even have lost because of a drop in minority turnout where it counted, in PA and the midwest, where she also lost whites. If the Dems lost some blacks in the South and gained some whites in the Midwest, they might have won. Regardless, you have yet to provide a lick of evidence a similar drop would have befallen Sanders, especially given your “vote for” thesis. Sanders wasn’t trying to appeal to Republican elected officials, he was trying to appeal to the general public. Going by polls, it was working too.

    And no, the sophistic premise implied in your ad-hominem about self-righteousness is that everything is a matter of opinion. That is exactly what is wrong with political discourse in America. It is not an opinion. It is objectively in the best interest of the people to not be over-policed, to improve access to education, to mitigate the overhang of student loan and other forms of personal debt, to promote full employment, to make increased personal incomes a priority, and to implement universal healthcare. Some smart people may not want those things, or may want them but not expect them. Certainly some rich and powerful people don’t want those things. But that doesn’t mean they are not interest of the vast, vast majority of voters. They are.

  • AlTate

    At the end of the day, he was perceived as a socialist, which makes him unelectable in America

  • AlTate

    And if my cat was a dog it would bark

  • AlTate

    Nope, wrong, elections are decided by swing voters who, er, swing back and forth between Dems and the GOP

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

House Appropriators Leave TIGER, HSR Out of Next Year’s Budget

|
It’s always confusing when, in the middle of endless bicameral hand-wringing about transportation spending, the House Appropriations Committee puts out a budget for transportation without much ado. That’s what they did today. The Transportation and HUD Subcommittee will vote tomorrow on its draft budget, released today, in preparation to send it to the full Appropriations Committee. The […]
The Red Line bus rapid transit project in Indianapolis, which voters approved as part of a package in November, is one of dozens of projects threatened by Donald Trump's budget proposal. Image: IndyGo

Think of Trump’s Budget as an Attack on Cities

|
Yesterday Donald Trump released a budget outline that calls for severe cuts to transit, and the reaction was swift and scathing. The National Association of City Transportation Officials called it "a disaster" for cities. Transportation for America said it was a "slap in the face" for local communities that have raised funds to expand transit.