Trump's Budget Repeats Calls for Slashing State and Local Programs

James Knable, left, and Jeffrey Freeland, right, help to unpack copies of the President's FY19 Budget after it arrived at the House Budget Committee office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Feb. 12, 2018.

James Knable, left, and Jeffrey Freeland, right, help to unpack copies of the President's FY19 Budget after it arrived at the House Budget Committee office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Feb. 12, 2018. AP Photo/Susan Walsh


Connecting state and local government leaders

The proposal appears to be out of step with previous actions by Congress and a new two-year budget deal enacted last week.

WASHINGTON — The White House in the fiscal year 2019 budget plan it released on Monday is again calling for sharp cuts to programs that state and local governments rely on for funding.

The Trump administration proposed similar reductions in its budget last year. But congressional appropriators showed little enthusiasm for eliminating long-standing programs that support areas like infrastructure and community development.

And lawmakers last week passed, and President Trump signed, a two-year budget framework for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 that raised federal spending caps by about $300 billion. So, in other words, the president is proposing cuts that Congress has exhibited limited support for previously, at a time when lawmakers have more money to spend.

"Is this dead on arrival?" White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said during a press briefing Monday, referring to the budget proposal's prospects in Congress. "The answer is absolutely not."

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, a New Jersey Republican, said in a statement the committee would review Trump's budget request. But he added: "The Committee will perform our own analysis and craft legislation that reflects the will of the House and the needs of the people we represent."

Democrats in Congress lashed out against the president's proposal. "The priorities identified in this budget are not the priorities of the American people," Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said in a statement.

"President Trump is abandoning the bipartisan budget deal reached by Congress and signed—by the President—last week," he added. "This is not a serious proposal; it is divorced from reality."

Matthew Chase, executive director of the National Association of Counties, indicated that his group was not letting its guard down when it comes to the administration's proposed cuts.

"I think the president's budget always matters, because it's setting the administration's priorities, but clearly the new budget deal on the Hill gives us hope that these programs will be retained," he said.

"We're not going to take anything for granted," Chase added.

Some of the notable state and local programs the White House proposes eliminating, for the second year in a row, include: Community Development Block Grants, the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER grants, and U.S. Department of Agriculture grants that support rural water and wastewater projects.

Community Development Block Grants provide a flexible source of money local governments can use for projects and activities like park improvements, sewer line upgrades and assisting the homeless. The program was allotted $3 billion in fiscal year 2017.

"The CDBG grants are incredibly important," Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman said by phone Monday.

The HOME program, designed to support affordable housing, was funded at $950 million in fiscal 2017, TIGER grants, which go to transportation projects, at $500 million, and USDA's rural water and wastewater grant program at about $509 million, according to White House budget documents.

Adding a twist on the state and local front in this year's budget proposal is that Trump is calling for a new infrastructure spending package that would involve about $200 billion of federal spending over 10 years, with the goal of driving $1.5 trillion in total infrastructure investment when factoring in state, local and private dollars.

Last week's budget deal boosts infrastructure funding levels by $20 billion over two years. But the administration is also looking to cut existing programs to help cover the federal share of the president's public works plan. This is sending mixed messages to some in the state and local government arena, who are optimistic about the infrastructure package, but concerned about the possible cuts.

"You can go through the budget and see that it cuts infrastructure programs, in addition to housing programs and social services. Those cuts, they just don't line up with what the president's proposing to accomplish on infrastructure," said Michael Wallace, director of federal advocacy for the National League of Cities.

"Cities get a lot of bipartisan support from Congress and we're going to rely on that moving forward," he added.

Overall, the president's plan outlines about $4.4 trillion of spending, with $716 billion for national defense. It also requests $1.6 billion to build about 65 miles of wall, in Texas, along the nation's southern border with Mexico. The wall is one of Trump's signature proposals.

Under the president's spending plan, the nation would have an estimated budget deficit of about $984 billion in fiscal 2019, up from $665 billion in fiscal 2017. Deficits would total about $7 trillion between 2019 and 2028, estimates in the budget show.

"I couldn’t come in here and tell you, using solid numbers, that we can balance in 10 years, because we can't," Mulvaney told reporters.

Trump's budget plan calls for lowering funding for a grant program for transit projects that is commonly called "New Starts." The administration's proposal would limit funding to projects with existing "full funding grant agreements" and requests $1 billion. The program's funding level for fiscal 2017 was about $2.4 billion.

Explaining the New Starts cut, the White House points to Trump's newly proposed infrastructure program and says, under it, "if regions raise their own dedicated revenues for infrastructure, the Administration would reward them with competitive grants and other incentives, and those regions can decide to use those funds for transit."

Additionally, the administration's budget would chop U.S. Environmental Protection Agency "categorical grants," which help states meet federal environmental requirements and standards, from just over $1 billion to $597 million.

The Justice Department's COPS hiring program would see less funding under the White House plan as well: $99 million, compared to $195 million in fiscal 2017. COPS was designed to assist state and local law enforcement with "community policing" efforts, geared toward building trust between police and the communities where they work.

But Trump's budget proposal says the program is now "subsidizing routine functions" and seeks to shift funding for it to "higher priority" law enforcement programs that have to do with combating problems like gangs, violent crime and illegal opioids.

The president backed away this year from a proposal in his fiscal 2018 budget to eliminate the Appalachian Regional Commission, an agency that works on economic development in parts of 13 states.

Instead, this year's spending blueprint calls for $152 million for the agency, on par with its current funding level.

Congress has still not finalized spending legislation for fiscal 2018, which began on Oct. 1.

The broad budget agreement lawmakers reached last week extended the latest in a series of stopgap measures, keeping the federal government funded through late March and giving Congress more time to come up with spending legislation for the current budget cycle.

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

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