Trump’s Not Backing Down on Cuts to Local Government Programs

Copies of President Donald Trump's fiscal 2018 federal budget are laid out ready for distribution on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Tuesday, May 23, 2017.

Copies of President Donald Trump's fiscal 2018 federal budget are laid out ready for distribution on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Tuesday, May 23, 2017. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais


Connecting state and local government leaders

His full budget proposal, which came out on Tuesday, mirrors a blueprint issued in March, and proposes controversial cuts to funding that supports federal grants and loans.

WASHINGTON — Despite opposition from mayors and other local leaders, President Trump plowed ahead Tuesday with budget proposals that would slash and eliminate grant and loan programs that both urban and rural communities have come to depend on.

Trump’s $4.1 trillion spending plan for fiscal year 2018 maintains proposals he put forward in a March blueprint to reduce funding for a number of programs that funnel federal dollars to localities, helping them pay for costs ranging from housing, to water infrastructure, to sidewalk repairs.

The White House called the budget plan “A New Foundation For American Greatness.”

But some local government groups characterized the plan in less optimistic terms.

“The scale of these proposed cuts would far outpace the ability of state and local governments to backfill,” National Association of Counties Executive Director Matthew Chase said in a statement.

“This budget places a bullseye on rural counties and residents already being left behind,” he added.

U.S. Conference of Mayors CEO and Executive Director Tom Cochran issued a statement saying that mayors across the country were "deeply troubled by President Trump’s brazen attack on the very people he promised to protect" and that they would "be on the front line fighting against this draconian vision for America’s cities and metro areas."

As part of an effort to balance the federal budget, the White House proposes $3.6 trillion in cuts over a decade. Trump’s proposal also calls for a $54 billion increase in defense spending in fiscal 2018 and factors in tax rate reductions for individuals and businesses.

The proposed spending decreases are the largest a president has ever included in a budget, according to the White House.

“I think for years and years we’ve simply looked at a budget in terms of the folks who are on the back end of the programs, the recipients of the taxpayer money, and we haven’t spent nearly enough time focusing our attention on the people who pay the taxes,” White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said at a press briefing on Tuesday.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, has previously advocated for eliminating some programs Trump is now seeking to ax.

“Overall, this budget takes important strides toward cutting the federal government down to size,” Romina Boccia, deputy director of the foundation’s Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies, said in a statement.

The White House wants to eliminate all funding for the Community Development Block Grant Program, or CDBG—a flexible source of money local governments can use for projects and activities like park improvements, sewer line upgrades and assisting the homeless.

This proposal in particular has led to pushback from local government officials.

Over 350 mayors from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have signed letters sent to congressional leaders in the U.S. House and Senate, voicing support for the Community Development Block Grant Program, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

CDBG is administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and was allotted about $3 billion in the current fiscal year.

Another Housing and Urban Development program known as the HOME Investment Partnerships Program is on the chopping block as well. It offers states and localities grants that are meant to support affordable housing and was provided about $950 million in fiscal 2017.

The administration has also proposed nixing all funds for a competitive transportation grant program known as Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER. Its funding level in the current budget cycle is about $500 million.

TIGER grants have funded road and transit projects in both urban and rural areas across the U.S. They date back to 2009.

Some Republican members of Congress have in recent months spoken in favor of preserving funding for the grants. And U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said last week the Trump administration was still having discussions about the TIGER program.

Funding for the Federal Transit Administration's Capital Investment Program, also called New Starts, which provides funding for local transit projects, would be cut in the Trump plan from upwards of $2 billion in fiscal 2017 to $1.2 billion in fiscal 2018.

While pursuing cuts to existing transportation and infrastructure programs, Trump is at the same time pushing for a sizable new infrastructure spending initiative that would involve both public and private investment, with about $200 billion of direct federal funding.

In justifying the reduction to New Starts, the budget proposal points to places like Los Angeles and Seattle that have asked voters to approve local transportation funding measures. “These regions realize waiting for federal grant funding is not the most efficient way to meet their local transportation needs,” Trump’s proposal says.

The president’s plan also calls for zeroing out funding for a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that issues loans and grants for water and wastewater utility projects in rural communities.

People familiar with the program describe it as a crucial tool for helping small utilities fund and finance upgrades, like replacing failing water storage tanks and old pipes.

Federal Emergency Management Agency grants to state and local governments would drop under Trump’s proposal, too, by $767 million.

The budget plan is sprawling, and there are other cuts that could affect local governments as well.

Trump’s budget release marks an initial step toward establishing federal spending levels for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1. Congress will now have a chance to decide which of the president’s budget proposals to accept or to reject.

Many cuts the administration has recommended are expected to meet resistance on Capitol Hill.

“The President's budget request is always subject to significant revision by Congress, and this budget will be no exception,” said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, who is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“Throughout my time in the Senate," she added, "I have never seen a president's budget make it through Congress unchanged.”

Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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