Trump's 2018 Major Agency Budget Proposal: Cutting Up the Credit Cards

There is a White House 2018 agencies budget proposal on the table.  The Nine-County Coalition’s primary focus is on city, county, and state matters.  However, we also opine on federal issues that significantly influence local events.  Therefore, we list some points from the Major Agency Budget published by the Office of Management and Budget on March 16, along with our comments. 

Budget – Highlights:  “…the Budget eliminates and reduces hundreds of programs and focuses funding to redefine the proper role of the Federal Government.”

Comment:  Amendment X of the United States Constitution - “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  What is not specifically enumerated is the responsibility of the States or the people.  Fiscal year 2016 federal budget $3.871 trillion; national debt $18 trillion; federal deficit $537 billion; 430 departments and agencies; 4,185,000 federal civilian and military employees.  Given these gargantuan figures, it would seem the federal government is tackling more than its enumerated duties.

Budget – Department of Agriculture:  “Reduces funding for lower priority activities in the National Forest System, such as major new Federal land acquisition; instead, the Budget focuses on maintaining existing forests and grasslands."   

Comment:  The Federal Government owns 46% of California land.  Most of us would not welcome building private homes on cattle grazing lands, given the economic contribution of ranchers to the state.  However, we need to choose between expensive transit-oriented development and reasonable reduction of protected areas.

Budget – Department of Commerce:  “Zeroes out over $250 million in targeted National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grants and programs supporting coastal and marine management, research, and education, including the Sea Grant, which primarily benefit industry and State and local stakeholders.”

Comment:  Although the 2016 Bay Area-wide Measure AA established a $12 parcel tax to help fund the Bay Area Restoration Authority, the Authority was certainly depending on federal grants. It is questionable whether there is a national interest in “restoring” the San Francisco Bay. The $12 parcel tax “benefits industry and State and local stakeholders,” especially the technology industry with its campuses bordering the South Bay.  The Budget will encourage NOAA to return to core functions such as surveying, charting, fisheries management, and providing forecasters with weather data.

Budget - Environmental Protection Agency:  "Eliminates funding for specific regional efforts such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Chesapeake Bay, and other geographic programs...The Budget returns the responsibility for funding local environmental efforts and programs to State and local entities, allowing EPA to focus on its highest national priorities."

Comment:  The "specific regional efforts" would include continued funding for the Bay Restoration Authority.  Industry campuses that border the Bay would need to fend for themselves if they fear flooding.  Environmentalists would need to rely on private donations to save their favorite fish or seaweed.  Consumers would need to vote with their feet and refuse to do business with companies that harm the Bay.

Budget – Department of Housing and Urban Development:  "Eliminates funding for the Community Development Block Grant program"…"The Federal Government has spent over $150 billion on this block grant since its inception in 1974, but the program is not well-targeted to the poorest population and has not demonstrated results.  The Budget devolves community and economic development activities to the State and local level…"

Comment:  Cities and counties have come to depend of federal block grants, and these grants come with strings attached.  The NCC has discussed the drawbacks of the 2015 Executive Order “Affirmatively Funding Fair Housing.”  One of the requirements of receiving block grants is establishing the AFFH program in every neighborhood, and filling out reams of forms affirming that progress is being made in achieving neighborhoods wholly integrated by race and income.  AFFH and many other HUD programs are certainly far removed from HUD’s core mission of helping the poorest populations.  We note that AFFH was a Presidential Executive Order on which neighborhood residents of any race or income never voted on.

Budget – Department of the Interior:  “Eliminates unnecessary, lower priority, or duplicative programs, including…National Wildlife Refuge fund payments to local governments that are duplicative of other payment programs.” “Reduces funding for…new major acquisitions of Federal land.”

Comment:  The core responsibilities of the DOI are to protect and manage federally-owned land and waterways, provide information about natural resources, and meet national trust responsibilities to American Indians, Alaska Natives, and U.S.-affiliated island communities. Investing in maintenance of existing national parks, refuges and public lands is a good use of scarce resources.

Budget – Department of Transportation:  “Limits funding for the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Program (New Starts) to projects with existing full funding grant agreements only.  Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects.” 

Comment:  Residents of Oklahoma and Kansas are helping to fund Bay Area’s BART and California’s High-Speed Rail.  Regarding the High-Speed Rail project, the Federal Railroad Administration is currently funding 69 HSR projects in 22 states totaling $8.6 billion; California’s share for initial planning, and construction of the initial Central Valley section is $2.6 billion or 30%.   

Loss of federal funding for many plans and projects, coupled with the financial strain placed upon Bay Area cities and counties intent on providing housing and a plethora of benefits for all, is not a pleasant prospect.  However, this might be a good time for voters to wrestle control back from profligate agencies, authorities, and irresponsible representatives, who seem to be doing everything in their power to either hoodwink voters or keep voters out of the decision-making process altogether. 

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Caltrain Electrification

The Orange County Register of 02/17/17 reported that federal funding for Caltrain electrification was placed on hold in February, pending a new federal budget.  Caltrain spokesman Seamus Murphy called the delay a disappointment and added, “It really isn’t about the Caltrain project or any question about controversy surrounding our project. It’s about billions of dollars of projects that are already in the pipeline,” he said. “I think this is more a question about whether the administration is going to continue to invest in transit projects in the way that federal investment has occurred in the past.”  Probably not, since the proposed 2018 budget shifts responsibility for new capital investment to the localities that use and benefit from the investments.