Administration's 2019 Budget Would Devastate Core Planning Programs

President Trump unveiled his FY 2019 budget proposal on Monday, eliminating programs that make up the core of federal investments in planning and shifting the financial burden to state and local governments.

As was the case a year ago, the budget proposal eliminates funding for the Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG), TIGER, Capital Investment Program (New Starts), HOME Investment Partnerships, and Choice Neighborhoods.

APA's Statement in Opposition

APA strongly opposes the proposed budget. APA President Cynthia Bowen, AICP, issued a statement saying the budget “fails local communities” and urging Congress “to reject [the Trump administration’s] approach and invest in the needs and priorities of the nation’s communities.”

While the President’s budget proposes a 10 percent overall increase in spending over FY 2017, the additional funding is largely allocated to defense while making deep cuts to departments and agencies critical to planners. The proposal calls for a:

  • 19 percent cut to the Department of Transportation
  • 18 percent cut to the Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • 34 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency

These draconian cuts are slightly tempered by the influx of additional budget authority provided by the budget agreement struck by Congress last week. However, the Trump administration’s budget does not provide full details of how the President envisions Congress appropriating the funds and suggests that Congress not spend all the new domestic spending called for in the new agreement.

Infrastructure

The Trump administration also released its long-awaited infrastructure proposal in conjunction with the budget.

As expected the proposal calls for $200 billion in federal spending over a decade to leverage a purported $1.5 trillion in total investment. However, the budget slashes or eliminates a series of existing infrastructure programs leaving many to see the administration’s opening bid as merely shifting resources and providing no new support.

The proposal also envisions a dramatic shift to relying more heavily on state and local funding. APA has called for new infrastructure investment as a top legislative priority, but has repeatedly noted that any new program should not come at the expense of existing tools and resources. Watch for a complete review of the infrastructure proposal coming soon.

Department of Housing and Urban Development

The budget marks a significant shift to the mission of HUD in two ways: the elimination of its community development programs and a massive disinvestment in the nation’s public housing stock.

Most significantly for planners, the proposal eliminates Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), claiming the program is “duplicative” and has “failed to demonstrate [its] effectiveness.” The President also recommends the elimination of the HOME Investment Partnerships program and the Choice Neighborhood Initiative. Similar to the FY 2018 budget proposal, the administration claims that community development programs are better handled by state and local governments.

Despite the President’s attempt to eliminate CDBG, HOME, and Choice Neighborhoods last year, Congress chose to continue funding these important programs, in part because of the groundswell of advocacy for these issues.

The budget proposal also eliminates the Public Housing Capital Fund, the pot of money available to Public Housing Authorities to rehabilitate and modernize its public housing stock. This could have a devastating impact on communities with aging public housing inventory.

In 2010 a HUD study estimated that the backlog of deferred maintenance of public housing exceeded $26 billion and accrues at a rate of $3.4 billion per year. In FY 2017, Congress provided only $1.9 billion for the Capital Fund. A complete elimination of this funding leaves public housing authorities with the option of either participating in the Rental Assistance Demonstration program or turning to their state and local governments to finance the rehabilitation of public housing.

If neither option is viable, communities face a dramatic increase in blighted public housing and a loss of critical affordable housing stock in the midst of a nationwide affordable housing crisis.

Department of Transportation

Despite the talk of infrastructure in the State of the Union address, the budget proposal would make deep cuts to transportation programs.

The Trump administration’s infrastructure plan would be partly funded through cuts to the fiscal 2019 Department of Transportation budget, which faces a 19 percent decrease compared with 2017 enacted spending. Administration officials argue that the cuts would be made up for by new investment from the infrastructure proposal. That optimistic assessment belies the fact that the political fate of any new infrastructure program is far from certain and, as proposed, would not fully support demand for new public transit and rail.

The budget asks Congress to eliminate the popular TIGER grant program despite increased demand for the multimodal grants by local governments. Also slated for the budget axe is the primary federal source for funding new transit construction. New Starts and Small Starts grants would be eliminated. Amtrak would see its federal support cut in half. Additionally, the budget renewed the administration’s call to spin off air traffic control from the Federal Aviation Administration to a new nonprofit entity.

The budget sends mixed signals on autonomous vehicles.

Congress is poised to advance new AV legislation aimed at speeding AV deployment. At the same time, DOT has been aggressive in refining federal guidelines for the technology. The budget calls for a slight increase for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to fund AV research and regulations, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which also has regulatory authority related AVs, would see reduced funding in spite of congressional efforts to boost funding last year.

Time to Act

In addition to the cuts proposed for HUD and DOT, the budget also calls for damaging reductions at other planning-related agencies. The budget continues the administration’s efforts to scale back federal work on climate change initiative by scraping funding for the Global Climate Change Initiative and phasing out funding for State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development programs related to climate change.

NOAA would see a 20 percent cut and a “return to core functions.” EPA overall takes another substantial hit in the budget with proposed cuts of staff, a 34 percent funding cut, a nearly 50 percent cut to the Office of Science and Technology, and elimination of almost all climate science programs.

APA is preparing a more detailed analysis of the budget proposal with highlights for all key agencies and programs.

What Happens Next?

Congress rejected the Trump administration’s previous budget, and this proposal looks set for a similar fate on Capitol Hill.

With the newly enacted budget agreement, Congress is almost certain to boost funding in several categories, including a previously agreed upon $20 billion over two years for infrastructure. How that funding will be allocated is a key question for Congress. Appropriators will be working to resolve final funding levels for FY 2018 based on the new caps while also beginning work on next year’s budget.

In spite of the cool reception to the new budget on Capitol Hill, where criticism was bipartisan, it is still critical that advocates speak up for vital programs and needed investment.

Learn More

APA’s Policy team will dive even deeper into the action in Washington and explore how advocates can shape the debate on key planning issues during a webinar on Thursday, February 15. The webinar is free and open to members of APA’s Planners’ Advocacy Network.

Top image: Stacks of books containing President Donald Trump's budget for fiscal year 2019. AP photo.


About the Author
Jason Jordan is APA's director of policy.

February 13, 2018

By Jason Jordan