What the president's proposed budget cuts would mean for transit

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WASHINGTON – President Trump’s proposed fiscal 2019 budget cuts for public transit would put at risk billions of dollars of infrastructure projects as well as 1.1 million jobs, and reduce economic output by $90 billion, American Public Transportation Association said here on Monday.

“The proposed budget cuts to public transit will affect accessibility for millions of Americans across the nation that rely on our bus and rail systems to get to and from jobs, healthcare and education,” said APTA chair and Jacksonville, Florida,
Transportation Authority CEO Nathaniel P. Ford, Sr. as APTA members met here for their annual legislative conference.

The president is proposing to eliminate the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grant (CIG) New Starts program, which provides federal funds for transit rail (including subways), light rail, commuter rail, bus rapid transit and ferries.

He is also proposing other cuts to the CIG program, AMTRAK and the District of Columbia’s metro budget, as well as the elimination of funds for the popular Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program.

The cuts will hurt projects that already have state and local funds committed, with the expectation that the federal government will fulfill the financial obligations it promised under the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, the APTA said, noting that Congress overwhelmingly supported that act on a bipartisan basis.

The cuts to the CIG program will put at risk 53 public transit New Starts projects that total $51.7 billion in infrastructure investments, the APTA said.

"Cutting investments in America's public transit infrastructure to fund an infrastructure initiative is like robbing Peter to pay Paul," said APTA President and CEO Paul P. Skoutelas. "However, we are encouraged that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle support increased investments in public transit that will boost our economy and the quality of life in our local communities. We are calling on Congress to reject these budget cuts."

The 1.1 million loss of jobs from the overall public transit cuts would include 502,000 construction jobs and 300,000 longer term jobs associated with economic productivity, according to the group.

“APTA is very disappointed and quite concerned” about the proposed funding cuts,” Skoutelas told reporters during a briefing.

Peter Rogoff, CEO of Sound Transit in Seattle, Wash., a former DOT undersecretary and FTA administrator told reporters during the briefing that he is mystified why the president’s budget proposals don’t match his rhetoric on infrastructure.

Rogoff said Amazon has made the presence of mass transit is one of its four core criteria for a location for its new headquarters. Amazon and other companies have all sent letters to Trump urging him to keep federal funding assistance for mass transit, he said.

Rogoff also said he doesn’t understand why “certain players in the administration” view transit projects as “local projects” since some take hundreds of thousands of cars off of interstates.

“Some of these [transit] projects are interstate projects” in critically important economic areas, he added. “I have a hard time understanding how [rural] roads that might serve 3,000 or 300 or 30 residents, all worthy investments, are not considered local projects and are considered worthy of federal funds while these major transit expansions in international economic hubs are not.”

Asked about former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell’s call earlier in the day for an increase in the federal gas tax to prevent the Highway Trust Fund from becoming insolvent, Skoutelas pointed out that the business community, the trucking industry, and state transportation officials all support a gas tax hike.

“Everyone who knows about transportation and understands it, understands its impacts, is supporting a proposal like this to generate more revenue,” Skoutelas said.

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Infrastructure Transportation industry State and local finance Government finance Washington DC