President Donald Trump’s administration on Thursday released a preliminary budget proposal for 2018 that would slash funding for the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT).
The budget proposal allots $16.2 billion for USDOT’s discretionary budget, a $2.4 billion (13 percent) decrease from this year. The cuts came as a surprise for many analysts on Capitol Hill given Trump's campaign promises to make transportation infrastructure a top priority.
“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 document reads. "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."
In addition, the proposal would completely eliminate President Obama’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, saving an estimated $499 million each year. Obama launched the TIGER program in 2009 in an effort to revitalize ailing transportation infrastructure across the country.
“If [TIGER grants] were to be cut, then it’s big time trouble,” Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., the ranking member on the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, reportedly told The Hill
newspaper. “Department of Transportation TIGER grants are something that are considered essential to rehabbing our infrastructure.”
"This so-called ‘skinny’ budget exposes the big fat lies President Trump has told the American people when it comes to rebuilding our transportation infrastructure," added Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., ranking member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. "I would pronounce it dead on arrival, but my Republican colleagues have beat me to the punch.”
Also of note for the freight transportation industry, the budget proposal contains a provision to privatize air traffic control in the United States. The plan “initiates a multi-year reauthorization proposal to shift the air traffic control function of the FAA to an independent, non-governmental organization,” according to the document.
A similar proposal to disentangle air traffic control duties from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was floated as a separate bill last year, but was ultimately defeated over concerns related to congressional oversight.
The 62-page preliminary budget proposal
, which the Trump team titled "America First: A budget to make America great again," covers what is known as discretionary spending only - as opposed to mandatory spending - which includes the majority of the operating budgets for executive departments and agencies. Roughly $1.1 trillion in taxpayer money goes to the discretionary budget each year.
Several transportation and logistics industry groups have already spoken out against the proposed cuts.
“The austerity measures offered for transportation in the President’s budget blueprint go in the wrong direction and must be rejected. We cannot cut our way to a better and more modern transportation system,” Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department at labor union AFL-CIO, said in a statement.
“The President has rightfully called for a historic $1 trillion investment in our transportation system and infrastructure. But the budget released today does not advance that vision and instead would deal a severe blow to many key investment programs that are critical to our passenger and freight transportation network,” he added.
“We call on Congress to reject the misguided transportation cuts included in the President’s budget and instead advance new investments in programs that grow, modernize and enhance our transportation network and create and sustain middle-class jobs.”
Overall, the biggest winners in the proposed budget would be the Department of Defense, which would see funding grow 9 percent from 2017 levels to $639 billion, the Department of Homeland Security (up 7 percent to $44.1 billion) and the Department of Veteran Affairs (up 6 percent to $78.9 billion).
On the flip side, the budget includes funding cuts for the the Environmental Protection Agency (down 31 percent), the departments of State (29 percent), Agriculture (21 percent), Labor (21 percent), Health and Human Services (18 percent), Commerce (16 percent), Education (14 percent), Housing and Urban Development (13 percent), Interior (12 percent), Energy (6 percent), Treasury, (4 percent), and Justice (4 percent), as well as the Small Business Administration (5 percent) and NASA (1 percent).
In addition, several other departments and agencies would see their federal funding eliminated entirely, including the African Development Foundation, Appalachian Regional Commission, Chemical Safety Board, Corporation for National and Community Service, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Delta Regional Authority, Denali Commission, Institute of Museum and Library Services, Inter-American Foundation, U.S. Trade and Development Agency, Legal Services Corporation, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, Northern Border Regional Commission, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, U.S. Institute of Peace, U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.