A leaked version of President Trump’s proposed fiscal 2018 budget request would cut funding for federal transit capital grants while maintaining the federal aid to highways and transit promised in the five-year Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act.

Leaked version of President Trump's budget proposal for fiscal 2018 shows cuts to discretionary transportation spending but retains the highway funding contained in the five-year FAST Act.
Leaked version of President Trump's budget proposal for fiscal 2018 shows cuts to discretionary transportation spending but retains the highway funding contained in the five-year FAST Act. Bloomberg

The full official budget is set for a Tuesday release.

The line items in the proposal include the $44.23 billion for federal highway formula grants to states and $9.73 billion of transit formula grants in 2015’s FAST Act.

However, the proposal would reduce the Federal Transit Administration’s outlays for capital investment grants to state and local transit agencies to $1.2 billion from the FAST Act’s 2018 level of $2.3 billion.

Trump’s 64-page budget blueprint for fiscal 2018 that was released March 16 called for an end to FTA’s New Starts program except for those projects already covered by a completed and signed full funding agreement.

“Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects,” according to the budget plan.

The spreadsheet obtained by Third Way, a think tank that says it promotes "centrist" policies, was released late Thursday night. It is dated May 8.

“With the interest of the American public in mind — and as nothing in this document would be deemed classified material — we are releasing this document for all to see,” said Third Way president Jon Cowan.

Congress will have the final say on the fiscal 2018 budget, he said.

“If it were to be enacted, this budget would be a catastrophe for America,” Cowan said.

The budget spreadsheet does not include funding for the Transportation Income Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, which also was cut out of the administration’s budget blueprint for fiscal 2018. The stimulus-era TIGER program is not part of the FAST Act and must be reauthorized every fiscal year.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said at a Senate committee hearing on May 17 that the TIGER funding could be reallocated to provide some of the $200 billion of direct federal funding in the president’s infrastructure renewal program.

“I know how popular TIGER grants are with members of Congress,” Chao told lawmakers on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “This particular issue about TIGER grants is something we are discussing. The thought was that there be a more holistic approach to infrastructure, and perhaps these TIGER grants would be recast in some way in the future.”

The Senate approved a fiscal 2017 transportation budget in May that included $525 million for TIGER, up from $500 million in fiscal 2016. The House Appropriations Committee adopted a 2017 transportation budget that cut TIGER to $450 million but it has not reached the House floor.

President Obama’s 2017 budget proposal would have boosted TIGER to $1.25 billion.

Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the budget blueprint for fiscal 2018 attempts to increase the effectiveness of federal infrastructure funding.

“What we've effectively done is try to move money out of existing, more inefficient programs, and hold that money for what we expect to be more efficient infrastructure programs later on,” Mulvaney said when the budget outline was released.

It’s not a good idea to cut infrastructure spending now in hopes of a larger program later, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association said in its analysis of the fiscal 2018 outline.

The 64-page budget blueprint would cut $2.4 billion from discretionary transportation programs in fiscal 2018, a 12.7% reduction from fiscal 2017, ARTBA said.

“We do not support cutting current infrastructure investment as a down payment to some future infrastructure measure,” ARTBA said. “While director Mulvaney is suggesting the funds will be used later for the infrastructure package, we should be clear his proposed infrastructure spending reductions would be used now to supplement increases in defense and security spending.”

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