Trump’s Budget Takes an Axe to Transit

Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

The Trump administration has released its budget blueprint [PDF], and it’s a bloodbath for everything that’s not defense spending. In keeping with the budget’s general hostility to cities, transit would be hit especially hard.

The Trump budget would eliminate funding for transit expansion projects unless a funding agreement is already in place, the Washington Post reports. For transit projects that have yet to reach that stage, funding from the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program — currently budgeted for $2.3 billion annually through 2020 [PDF] — would no longer be available.

Many cities have lined up local funding for rail and bus rapid transit projects under the assumption that it would be complemented by federal support. Without the New Starts funding, these projects will be in jeopardy as cities and transit agencies fend for themselves, either raising taxes, cutting other local priorities, or abandoning the expansion projects altogether to compensate. Dozens of projects would be affected:

The New Starts transit program only accounts for about 5 percent of federal surface transportation spending. The Trump budget outline doesn’t touch the lion’s share of those funds, which go to state DOTs to spend as they wish — mainly on roads.

Trump’s budget would also eliminate funding for TIGER, a smaller $500 million program initiated by the Obama administration to provide direct access to federal transportation funds for cities, transit agencies, and other local entities. Relative to overall federal spending, TIGER has paid for more walking, biking, and transit projects, such as Indianapolis’s Cultural Trail and Tampa’s Riverwalk. At Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s confirmation hearing in January, she said Congress members told her it was their favorite program.

Eliminating federal subsidies for transit has long been a goal of hard-right ideologues — but in the past these attempts have failed in Congress. Swing votes in the suburban ring of major cities that count on transit — including some Republican districts — have helped fend off the worst attacks. They will have to be mobilized again to stop this one.

More recommended reading today: Systemic Failure breaks down Ford CEO Mark Field’s assertion that fuel economy standards will cost a million jobs. And Price Tags writes that some residents of Sandusky, Ohio, are upset about plans to transform an industrial pier into park space — because 40 waterfront parking spaces will be eliminated.

  • To be somewhat objective, it also sends an ax to the Essential Air Service, which I can’t imagine is much cheaper than Amtrak.

  • Bernard Finucane
  • bobfuss

    But as good progressives, we both support redistribution of wealth away from the affluent folks and towards the under-privileged areas, right?

  • bolwerk

    Mine is a happily gerrymandered Democrat who will ineffectually object to this without my prodding.

  • R.W. Rynerson

    It seems to retain the 5311f “rural” intercity bus subsidy. However, that program is currently stretched too thin to cover all the Amtrak and EAS connections. Here in Flyover Country a big chunk of it is used just to keep main bus lines in service.

  • Yah, let’s drive up the shipping costs of goods and services to you! Cut off your nose to spite your face!

  • citrate reiterator

    I support redistribution of wealth from affluent *Americans* to struggling *Americans*, wherever they happen to live. And while cities are net contributors to the Federal budget, there are still a lot more struggling Americans living in cities than in rural areas. Are struggling urban Americans really less worthy of Federal spending than their rural counterparts?

  • citrate reiterator

    The irony is that the cuts to Amtrak, like the cuts to the NIH and DOE, were probably mostly done as a symbolic f-you to progressives — any projected cost savings would be tiny. And yet, much like the proposed gutting of the ACA, it’s mostly people from red districts who would actually be affected.

  • bobfuss

    But cities and blue states also provide much more in the way of services to the poor, the homeless, the sick and so on. Indeed this has in the past been alleged to explain why homeless people head to cities like San Francisco which spends $200 million a year on the homeless and can provide free healthcare via SFGH.

    The rural areas, and cities in red states, typically spend less locally, so the Federal government can compensate for that.

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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

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