Thursday, March 16, 2017

Trump budget: Reduce Amtrak, FTA New-Starts; kill TIGER grants; privatize air traffic control

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Eliminating Amtrak’s long-distance trains, curtailing the FTA’s New-Starts program, eliminating the TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) discretionary grant program, and privatizing the FAA air traffic control system are among the elements of President Donald J. Trump’s Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Request to Congress, “America First, A Blueprint For Making America Great Again.”

“These cuts are sensible and rational,” Trump says in the “Message to Congress” portion of the budget request. “Every agency and department will be driven to achieve greater efficiency and to eliminate wasteful spending in carrying out their honorable service to the American people.”

Following is the language from the President’s budget request. A PDF of the entire document can be downloaded from the link below.


“The Department of Transportation (DOT) is responsible for ensuring a fast, safe, efficient, accessible, and convenient transportation system that meets our vital national interests and enhances the quality of life of the American people today, and into the future. The Budget request reflects a streamlined DOT that is focused on performing vital Federal safety oversight functions and investing in nationally and regionally significant transportation infrastructure projects. The Budget reduces or eliminates programs that are either inefficient, duplicative of other Federal efforts, or that involve activities that are better delivered by States, localities, or the private sector.

“The President’s 2018 Budget requests $16.2 billion for DOT’s discretionary budget, a $2.4 billion or 13% decrease from the 2017 annualized CR level.

“The President’s 2018 Budget:

“• Initiates a multi-year reauthorization proposal to shift the air traffic control function of the Federal Aviation Administration to an independent, non-governmental organization, making the system more efficient and innovative while maintaining safety. This would benefit the flying public and taxpayers overall.

“• Restructures and reduces Federal subsidies to Amtrak to focus resources on the parts of the passenger rail system that provide meaningful transportation options within regions. The Budget terminates Federal support for Amtrak’s long distance train services, which have long been inefficient and incur the vast majority of Amtrak’s operating losses. This would allow Amtrak to focus on better managing its State-supported and Northeast Corridor train services.

“• Limits funding for the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Program (New Starts) to projects with existing full funding grant agreements only. Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects.

“• Eliminates funding for the Essential Air Service (EAS) program, which was originally conceived of as a temporary program nearly 40 years ago to provide subsidized commercial air service to rural airports. EAS flights are not full and have high subsidy costs per passenger. Several EAS-eligible communities are relatively close to major airports, and communities that have EAS could be served by other existing modes of transportation. This proposal would result in a discretionary savings of $175 million from the 2017 annualized CR level.

“• Eliminates funding for the unauthorized TIGER discretionary grant program, which awards grants to projects that are generally eligible for funding under existing surface transportation formula programs, saving $499 million from the 2017 annualized CR level. Further, DOT’s Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects grant program, authorized by the FAST Act of 2015, supports larger highway and multimodal freight projects with demonstrable national or regional benefits. This grant program is authorized at an annual average of $900 million through 2020.”

It is important to understand that the Surface Transportation Board was separated from the DOT for administrative matters by the 2015 STB Reauthorization Act. The STB, as well as the National Mediation Board (NMB), would not be affected by Trump’s DOT budget reduction, and are not mentioned in the budget request. STB and NMB budget recommendations are not clear at this point. A March 13 Presidential Executive Order, “A Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch,” applies only to Executive Branch agencies such as DOT, FRA and PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration), since STB and NMB are independent of the Executive Branch. It is at the determination of those agency’s heads whether to comply. “The devil will remain in the details for the time being,” according to one observer.

And, as the Washington Post points out, “Discretionary spending limits, addressed by this proposal, are set by congressional budget resolutions. Congress typically makes changes to the President’s proposal — last year, lawmakers disregarded Obama’s budget altogether. Mandatory spending, by contrast, is set by other laws and is often determined by the size of the benefit and the eligible population.”

As such, the budgest request is largely symbolic, “so the sky is not actually falling,” says another observer.

“Many other Government agencies and departments will also experience cuts,” Trump says in the budget request. As such, the request also proposes to eliminate funding for other independent agencies, including (in alphabetical order), the African Development Foundation; the Appalachian Regional Commission; the Chemical Safety Board; the Corporation for National and Community Service; the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; the Delta Regional Authority; the Denali Commission; the Institute of Museum and Library Services; the Inter-American Foundation; the U.S. Trade and Development Agency; the Legal Services Corporation; the National Endowment for the Arts; the National Endowment for the Humanities; the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation; the Northern Border Regional Commission; the Overseas Private Investment Corporation; the United States Institute of Peace; the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness; and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.














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