Friday, March 17, 2017

Passenger advocates skewer Trump’s proposed budget; USDOT not ruffled

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Passenger rail advocates called out the Trump Administration's proposed budget for perceived hypocrisy and undermining the voters who put him in office while the U.S. Department of Transportation's (USDOT) response was more moderate.

Acting American Public Transportation Association (APTA) President and CEO Richard A. White issued a statement that noted APTA's surprise and disappointment with what he dubbed the "Skinny Budget" for Fiscal Year 2018, especially with talk from the administration about investing $1 trillion into infrastructure.

"The federal government currently covers only 43 percent of all capital spending for public transit and any cuts will only add to the significant shortfall that already exists," said White. "The American economy and communities of all sizes would be losers if the proposed reductions in the [Federal Transit Administration] Capital Investment Grants, the TIGER program and Amtrak are enacted. As it stands now, America is already underinvesting in public transportation, as noted in the recently released American Society of Civil Engineers infrastructure report card. These proposed cuts would make the existing $90 billion of State of Good Repair gap even worse."

National Association of Rail Passengers (NARP) issued a statement that said the proposed budget would lead to a nightmare scenario for people who depend on rail services and said the "cuts to Amtrak, transit and commuter rail programs, and even air service to rural towns, would not only cost construction and manufacturing jobs, but place a disproportionate amount of pain on rural and working class communities."

NARP President Jim Mathews said, "When the president proposed a $1 trillion infrastructure proposal, voters expected that would mean more funding for projects like long-distance rail and new subway and light rail construction. These are the kinds of public works that spur private investment, create good jobs, and lead to economic revitalization. This budget does exactly the opposite."

Meanwhile, the response to the budget at USDOT by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, whose agency would see a $2.4 billion decrease in discretionary funding under the proposed plan, noted the proposed budget was directed at deficit reduction and points out that USDOT's discretionary programs only account for one-quarter of its total resources.

"We will see the more complete picture when [Office of Management and Budget] releases its final FY 2018 budget in May and as the president's infrastructure initiative takes shape," said Sec. Chao. "In fact, OMB Director [Mick] Mulvaney noted yesterday that the strategy behind the savings in the USDOT budget is to move money out of existing, inefficient programs and hold these funds for more efficient programs that will be included in the infrastructure package under development."

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