Think of Trump’s Budget as an Attack on Cities

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
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

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.

The budget threatens dozens of transit projects cities have been planning for years and which, in many cases, voters have approved by large margins. Meanwhile, notes Yonah Freemark at the Transport Politic, no such cuts are planned for federal highway funding:

The net effect of the budget — going beyond just the Department of Transportation — is a massive slashing of support for cities, even as support for suburbs is maintained. While new transit projects would be eliminated from federal funding, the highway formula funds, which support new highway construction, would be retained. The Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects grant program, which primarily goes to expanding federal roads, would be continued at $900 million a year.

Linda Bailey, executive director of NACTO, assessed the potential damage and noted that it extends to HUD as well:

The White House has proposed to stop funding transit projects through the New Starts and Small Starts program (Capital Investment Grants), which matches over $2 billion in local funding for rail, streetcar, and bus rapid transit projects every year. The budget also envisions eliminating TIGER, an extremely popular program that funds innovative projects with proven benefits in communities in all 50 states. TIGER is already underfunded: just 5% of eligible projects were funded last year. Finally, the proposed elimination of subsidies to Amtrak services, which had record ridership last year, would leave communities around the country without viable national rail connections at a time when we need more connections between our communities, not fewer.

In addition, the White House budget eliminates the Department for Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grants program completely, a crucial, flexible source of funding that has improved communities around the country for 42 years. Last year alone, the program created 17,545 jobs.

Community Development Block Grants are a critical source of funding for planning departments, local transportation projects, and affordable housing. Eliminating that $3 billion in support would be a blow to cities of all sizes.

More recommended reading today: Smart Growth America shares a statement from its coalition of urban developers explaining how Trump’s budget will likely reduce investment in city housing. And the League of American Bicyclists reports on the meetings between advocates and members of Congress during this year’s National Bike Summit.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Meanwhile, notes Yonah Freemark at the Transport Politic, no such cuts are planned for federal highway funding.”

    That’s the problem. One can look at the defense increases as rural welfare too.

  • Slexie

    So? Transit ridership is down in LA, despite the Expo Line. I’d be fine with no money from the Feds for that boondoggle HSR. Maybe no federal funds will finally kill it. No one is building housing except billionaire developers and they have affordable ones set aside by law. No one is building affordable housing alone here in LA. And the only thing the bicycle lobby has done is insist on taking out traffic lanes on busy streets for bike lanes that sit empty while traffic backs up all day. I’d be fine if they had no money to keep ruining neighborhoods. And what do you expect for LA? Thanks to our mayor we are a sanctuary city, we weren’t getting much money from the feds anyway. Fine with me.

  • Danna Walker

    Great piece. Also check out Deron Lovaas of NRDC’s blog: The Trump Heartless Housing and Transportation Budgets: https://www.nrdc.org/experts/deron-lovaas/trump-heartless-housing-and-transportation-budgets

  • Jason

    Overall Metro ridership is down, but it’s because of decreased bus ridership. Rail ridership is up. Since you seem to live in LA I’m going to assume I don’t have to explain to you why rail would cannibalize bus ridership here.

  • bolwerk

    I’m sure a Google search will show Slexie supported axing highway budgets during that multiyear period where VMT was decreasing.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Which is why we need you pay for yours, we’ll pay for ours, and we’ll cut out the middle man in Washington. The federal gas tax can be used to pay interest on the debts from the oil wars.

  • bobfuss

    The clear mandate from the 2016 GE was a change of emphasis away from elite coastal cities and towards the heartland. So why would anyone act surprised when that mandate translates into policy and priorities?

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Because the heartland is full of assholes and nobody lives there. Does that clear it up for you?

  • kevin

    So take all the money away from the places where most people live and fund failing communities in bumfuck nowhere?

  • LAguttersnipe

    ALL POWERFUL BIKE LOBBY! We coming for you Slexie! 8.8 miles a year!

  • bobfuss

    So anyone who disagrees with your personal preferences is an “asshole”?

    And nobody lives in the 30 states that voted for Trump?

  • Jacob Wilson

    I think cities should stop paying the federal taxes that fund the auto-centric lifestyle all these rural/suburban rugged individualists. Lets toll up the the highways and bridges and hike up the commuter taxes.

    The great irony is these rubes that go on about “takers” only need look in the mirror.

  • bolwerk

    “Clear mandate” is a really, really strange interpretation of a coastal elitist losing to another coastal elitist by winning 2 million more votes.

  • Nicholas L

    boondoggle language alert..troll!

  • bobfuss

    Clinton only won the popular vote because that was the way she campaigned, stupidly. Trump showed more interest in the States that mattered, and so deserved to win.

  • bolwerk

    Not sure I disagree with any of that, except the “deserved” part. But it doesn’t mean the GOP has a mandate to fuck shit up.

    Either way, the states that voted for Trump are going to get what they voted for good and hard.

  • bobfuss

    Funny thing is the only people I ever hear use the word “mandate” are people on the losing side of an election, who usually claim that the winner doesn’t have a mandate because (fill in the blanks).

  • bolwerk

    Even funnier is they’re usually right, at least in re American presidential elections.

    “Mandate” usually implies direction from the voters on a certain topic, which I don’t see as very discernible here. And U.S. presidential elections usually turn on several issues.

  • Andrew

    FYI: You introduced the word “mandate” here.

  • bobfuss

    I introduced the word in its correct sense. If you win an election then you have a mandate to enact what you said you would do in your campaign.

    When I criticized the use of the word elsewhere, I was referring to the incorrect “sore loser” sense of the word, i.e. when someone who lost an election says “Yeah, but the winner doesn’t have a mandate”.

    As if that means that the winner should somehow concede, resign and accept the argument that, although he won, he somehow didn’t really win in a hypothetical alternative universe where the rules are competely different from what they actually are.

  • bolwerk

    Setting aside that you are misusing the word mandate, you can often cite campaign rhetoric where Trump took more than one position on a given topic. In those cases, how do you know which did the voters give him the supposed mandate for?

  • Haggie

    Don’t worry, Trump will eventually get around to screwing everyone over.

  • bobfuss

    All Presidents sometimes deviate from their plan, and/or are ambiguous about some aspects. But I’m using the word “mandate” correctly – the President derives his constitutional mandate from the Electoral College.

    When these other folks use the word “mandate” (wrongly) they are instead engaged in a form of whining, e.g. “Trump doesn’t have a mandate because (insert some made up form of electing winners here).”

    I never heard a Democrat whine that Obama didn’t have a mandate. Funny that. The fact that he really didn’t do much with it is a different matter.

  • bolwerk

    Trump was unambiguously contradicting himself, not deviating from a stated plan. And none of that has any legal meaning in the USA. The president derives his authority from the constitution, and is seated by a congress that may choose to act on the selection of a mandatory but ultimately advisory electoral college.

    I could credit that your definition of the term mandate makes more sense, but it’s just not what people usually mean when they use the word. They are referring to instructions from the electorate to do something. I could see arguing the public was doing that with Obama in 2008, but not 2012. In 2012 they just didn’t like Mitt Romney. Then they didn’t want him in 2016 when he had a sex change operation and ran as Democrat.

    (“Mandate” has a much clearer meaning in a proportional representational system, where a party that actually achieves a majority gets a mandate to implement its agenda. In cases where no party does, which is probably the norm, a coalition has to form.)

  • TakeFive

    Dang, does anybody understand that spending Bills are made in Congress, typically (but not always) initiated by the House of Representatives?

    Speaking of HUD, why no mention of this?

    At the same time, Congress will be considering a bipartisan bill to increase another federal housing program. Senators Maria Cantwell and Orrin Hatch introduced a bill last week to double the size of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program and streamline some pieces of it.

    LIHTC is a popular funding mechanism that plays a role in the vast majority of affordable housing development.

    http://www.marketwatch.com/story/trumps-deep-cut-to-huds-budget-would-hurt-the-poor-and-elderly-and-destroy-jobs-2017-03-16

  • Dexter Wong

    Well, actually no. Trump’s budget has also cut Amtrak long-distance service (rural trains), Essential Air Service (subsidized planes to small rural airports) and Community Development Block Grants (various social programs to rural America).

  • Dexter Wong

    It would seem that the people who live in those states are on the short end of the budget stick, too.

  • And this is a good thing?

    Cannibalized bus ridership invariably means a once good commuter / express bus line, from a residential area to a workplace, gets replaced by a showpiece rail system. However, now the transit option to work means a shuttle bus to the rail to another shuttle bus, making the transit commute that much longer and leading former commuter / express passengers to go back to driving.

    Which explains overall Metro ridership down. 🙁

  • Jason

    “means a once good commuter / express bus line, from a residential area to a workplace, gets replaced by a showpiece rail system”

    Unless you can point to specific examples of this, this is a very big assumption to make.

  • From VTA in San Jose / Santa Clara County to Regional Transit in Sacramento County. I have *lived* it. Express commuter buses were cancelled and purged and Rail showpieces were built or extended.

  • oceanstater

    As an ex-New Yorker, I’m disappointed that no New York values have rubbed off on Dirty Don. These values include respect for the arts and a lively press, tolerance of immigrants and diverse minorities, rejection of racism and anti-Semitism, care about urban quality of life, investment in subways and mass transit, pedestrian rights, services for the homeless, city universities, parks, restrictions on gun violence…. The only New Yorkers Trump seems to care about are Wall St tycoons, otherwise its only has decided to act as a lackey of the fossil fuel barons, religious zealots out to destroy reproductive freedom, the gun and weapons industries, and assorted polluters. What a nightmare.

  • Vertigo700

    Spending bills are made in congress, but the presidential budget is actually an important part of the process and is required by law.

    As the “executor” of laws, the president’s budget essentially represents what he or she thinks the government should spend on the government programs already passed by Congress (which of course Congress can choose to get rid of if they have the votes).

    Both the House and the Senate use the president’s budget in their own budget making powers. It is true that Congress passes the yearly appropriation bills that actually fund the government, but they do often use the president’s budget as a “baseline” for how to fund the government. They can use that baseline or ignore it entirely…but the president’s budget is a part of the process and as he or she holds the veto pen, it does guide how Congress is appropriating funds as well.

  • Yah, those Muslims you coddle are just so Jew friendly, aren’t they? 😛

  • Mike Bryant

    I agree with you oceanstater, on every point! This guy is a walking disaster. A lot of pro-Trump voters are now regretting their decision. Too Late. I am happy to say that I didn’t vote for this madman! Call your House Reps and your Senators and Oppose these crazy ideas.

  • Slexie

    Rail ridership is up because people taking the bus are now taking the rail. That’s why bus ridership is down.

  • Slexie

    Using the word “boondoggle” makes me a troll? That’s the dumbest thing I think I’ve ever heard.

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