Trump Budget Blasts Cycling

The Wisconsin Bike Fed works primarily with state and local governments. But we do keep an eye on the Federal level where most of the lobbying is carried on by the League of American Bicyclists and by the industry and its arm People for Bikes.

Below find an analysis of President Trump’s initial Federal budget proposal from League public policy director Caron Whitaker. While it’s a pretty bleak picture, note that some legislators in his own party have called the President’s budget “dead on arrival.” Still, we provide you with this look at the proposal in case you may want to contact your U.S. Senators or your Congressional Representative to voice your concerns.

by Caron Whitaker of the League of American Bicyclists

The Trump White House released its “skinny budget” last week which includes significant cuts to non-defense discretionary funds, including a 13 percent cut to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and some programs. This budget is for fiscal year 2018 which starts October 1, 2017, and not the 2017 budget still being debated in Congress.

The budget lays out a 13 percent cut to the DOT including a zeroing out of TIGER, severe cuts to Amtrak long distance trains and limits transit “New Starts” program[1] to projects where funds have already been obligated. The cut of 13 percent puts the DOT in the middle of cuts to non-defense agencies. EPA was cut 31 percent, while the Treasury and Justice departments only had a 4 percent cut.

The budget does not directly affect transportation alternatives, or other core programs like CMAQ or STP. Transportation Alternatives and other core programs are not affected by the budget because the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) funds them. The HTF is basically a lock box of funding that can only be spent on transportation. This could be why the DOT budget was only cut by 13 percent. These other programs: TIGER, Amtrak, Transit “New Starts” programs are not part of the HTF, so they are more vulnerable in this stage of the budget process.

The budget eliminates TIGER — which hurts biking and walking, and multimodal projects. The TIGER program is a discretionary program that funds projects hard to fund under normal transportation funding programs. For instance, it funds projects that cross state and jurisdiction borders. The program originated as part of the stimulus project, and gave the US DOT significant discretion in how to direct funding. The DOT, under both Secretaries LaHood and Foxx, prioritized multi-modal projects (such as requiring biking and walking access on bridges) and funded larger projects like Vision Zero in New York City, Complete streets redesign in Dubuque Iowa, and a trails network in the Philadelphia, PA, region.

The argument for defunding the transit program could have repercussions for biking and walking in the future. In justifying the end of new grants under “New Starts” the budget document states that, “Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects.”

This argument — that transit is a local service therefore should not be part of federal funding — is one that can be applied to bicycling and walking projects and we should expect to see it in the future as well.

The Trump Budget includes a 13 percent cut to U.S. Department of Transportation overall. This includes the programs listed here, but could also mean some personnel cuts. In addition to this budget, Congressional Quarterly reported that the White House is working on an executive order that would require agencies to reorganize — to work more efficiently, eliminate duplicative funding and ensure programs cost less.

While we all support a more effective and efficient DOT, this could result in some programs being understaffed and not implemented effectively. Specifically we will need to watchdog changes to staff, and to the implementation of initiatives like the performance measures for which we fought so hard.

Staff cuts could also make it hard for the agency to process and implement any new infrastructure funding, particularly if that funding comes through a new program instead of existing programs.

Why cut transit, Amtrak and TIGER when the President wants to invest a trillion dollars into infrastructure? It does seem counter productive to cut transportation funding when the president has promised significant investment in infrastructure. According to the Mick Mulvaney, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) stated that the “line item” cuts in the budget cut “less efficient [programs] than the infrastructure package that we’re working on for later on this year.”

Efficiency can be in the eye of beholder, and depends on the measurement. Mulvaney’s remarks should be a caution for those who care about bicycling and walking. We can argue that bicycling and pedestrian projects are less than two percent of the transportation budget and account for 12 percent of all trips, that they create more jobs per million dollar spent and that they reduce congestion and improve air quality. We’ll need to learn more about how the Trump Administration measure efficiency.

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