Editorial: Trump’s cuts to transportation would hurt economy

Port of Everett

Port of Everett

By The Herald Editorial Board

Someone will have to explain to us the logic in following a call for $1 trillion in infrastructure spending during a presidential campaign with a budget proposal that seeks to cut and in some cases eliminate federal support for a range of transportation projects and services that are vital to the state’s and nation’s economy and quality of life.

President Trump, in order to pay for some $58 billion in new spending in his budget proposal — $54 billion of it to balloon the Defense Department budget to $639 billion — proposes $58 billion in cuts in discretionary spending at 19 other agencies and several other programs. The Environmental Protection Agency and State Department suffer the deepest cuts. But significant cuts are made throughout the federal government, including about $2.4 billion, a 13 percent reduction, for the Transportation Department, reducing its budget to $16.2 billion.

Those cuts, if adopted by Congress, would reach Snohomish County and the rest of Washington state. Among projects in the county that could lose federal funding:

Community Transit’s Swift II bus line, a bus rapid transit route that is supposed to begin service in 2018, connecting the Boeing plant at Paine Field, the park-and-ride at McCollum Park and the park-and-ride at Canyon Park in Bothell. The $66.6 million project was to be split, 70 percent through federal New Starts transportation grants, about 25 percent from state funding and about 5 percent from local tax revenue and other local sources.

(Despite Trump’s budget proposal, Community Transit spokesman Martin Munguia, in a blogpost Friday, said that the project is moving ahead and has authorization from the Federal Transit Administration to begin work prior to final approval of its grant.)

Lynnwood’s extension to Sound Transit’s Link light rail system, which is to connect a Lynnwood station to the larger light rail system by 2023. The $2.35 billion project was to be split with 50 percent federal funding and 50 percent from local and state sources, including car tabs, sales tax and rental car tax.

Trump’s budget also would: cut federal support from many Amtrak routes, including the two that serve Washington state, the Empire Builder and Coast Starlight; seek to privatize airport air traffic control; and eliminate subsidies that provide commercial air service to rural airports.

Most curious, when stood next to Trump’s promise of $1 trillion in infrastructure improvements, is the $499 million in cuts to the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program. The TIGER program, created through legislation sponsored in 2009 by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, has provided $4.6 billion in funding for road, rail, transit, ports and even bicycle and pedestrian projects.

Beyond the federal investment, the program leverages state and local funding for such projects, averaging $2 in state and local funding for every $1 in federal spending. TIGER grants have supported 16 projects in the state with $239 million in funding.

Most recently, TIGER provided $10 million last July for $55 million in improvements to cargo-handling facilities at the Port of Everett’s South Terminal, work that will support Boeing’s 777X program.

Another $10 million TIGER grant was the final piece of funding necessary for the $129 million project for a new Mukilteo terminal for Washington State Ferries.

Snohomish County has previously applied for a $16 million TIGER grant to replace the 83-year-old Granite Falls Bridge over the Stillaguamish River, part of the Mountain Loop Scenic Byway between Granite Falls and Darrington.

The TIGER program has faced threats of cuts in the past. House Republicans in 2014 proposed only $100 million for the program. But it has bipartisan support in the Senate. Sen. Murray, who is the ranking minority member on the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees transportation projects, is joined in her advocacy by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who is the subcommittee’s chairwoman.

But more than bipartisanship in Congress will be necessary to save transit programs and transportation grants. Transportation projects in the past could typically count on some level of support from both parties.

Things have now changed.

A month ago, Sound Transit officials were relatively confident of federal funding, noting past support regardless of which party held the White House. Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick told The Herald’s Noah Haglund: “Transportation is strongly linked to economic prosperity. In many ways, it’s a very nonpartisan issue.”

But following release of the president’s budget, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff described the zero-out of federal funding as a “body blow.”

“We did not anticipate a scenario in which the federal government would completely walk away from the table after decades of partnership with cities across America,” Rogoff said in a release.

Trump, practicing his “art of the deal,” may be making an opening gambit here, asking for everything to position himself before negotiating.

That may work in real estate, but it’s a lousy way to write a budget because it attempts to pit scores of worthy programs and agencies against each other.

Are we to choose between TIGER grants and funding for PBS, between Meals on Wheels and cleanup of Puget Sound, between after-school and summer programs for students and medical research by the National Institutes of Health?

Last year, Congress disregarded President Obama’s budget, and declined testimony from the director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Congress, likewise, should round-file President Trump’s budget.

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