The Department of Transportation (DOT) faces a $2.4 billion cut under President Trump's proposed federal budget blueprint — a surprising figure given Trump's pledges to improve U.S. infrastructure.
The department's funding would be cut by 13 percent, to $16.2 billion, according to the proposal released early Thursday.
"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 says.
"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 blueprint also eliminates funding for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, which was set up by the Obama administration’s 2009 economic stimulus package to provide an extra injection of cash for surface transportation projects.
The grants are appropriated by Congress every year but were never authorized. The proposal estimates that scrapping the program would save $499 million annually.
TIGER grants are a popular funding tool among cities and states. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao expressed support for TIGER grants and the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan program during her confirmation hearing.
But the program has drawn the ire of Republicans, who have sought to eliminate or reduce the grants in previous spending bills.
“If [TIGER grants] were to be cut, then it’s big time trouble,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), ranking member on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, told The Hill last week.“Department of Transportation TIGER grants are something that are considered essential to rehabbing our infrastructure.”Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who chairs the Senate Appropriations transportation subcommittee, has promised to protect the grants in any spending bill.
Trump vowed as a candidate and after winning the White House to improve the nation's infrastructure, calling for repairing U.S. roads, bridges and airports.
In related news, the Transportation Construction Coalition (TCC) says the president's budget proposal is a missed opportunity to offer a permanent highway trust fund solution.
"Encouraging as it is that the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2018 Budget Blueprint includes a reference to the president’s pending infrastructure package, it is disappointing that administration officials failed to include proposals to provide a permanent and sustainable solution for funding the Highway Trust Fund," TCC said.
A permanent solution to the Highway Trust Fund’s fiscal instability that would support the president’s call for increased transportation infrastructure investment is the most effective way to achieve that goal, the coalition said.
"Since 2008, Congress has infused the trust fund with more than $140 billion in general fund transfers," it said. "While these steps have prevented dramatic reductions in federal highway and public transportation investment, the resulting uncertainty has led to project delays and diluted state efforts to implement long-term transportation improvement plans.
"Failure to resolve this issue once and for all prior to 2020 will require President Trump and Congress to either pass additional short-term stopgap measures or find a $110 billion off-set to pass a multi-year surface transportation bill."