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What the White House budget means for biking
The White House released its full budget for fiscal year 2018 this week, which builds on the skinny budget — the earlier version released in March. The budget does not touch transportation alternatives, the major source of funding for bicycling and walking infrastructure. However, it does include some warning signs moving forward.
What is in the President’s budget?
Spending levels for transportation in this budget are similar to the levels in the skinny budget, which you can read about here, including a 13 percent cut to the transportation budget. A few differences:
- This budget significantly slashes funding for New Starts transit programs or long distance Amtrak trains. (but does not wipe it out completely).
- It makes significant cuts to the Office of the Secretary in the U.S. Department of Transportation. This is the office that spearheads most of the policy and innovation.
However, the budget does include a funding schedule for an additional $200 billion over ten years. In the 2018 budget this will include $5 billion more for the new initiative. This amount increases for five years and then decreases back to zero by the end of ten years. This budget also includes the key principles for the Trump Infrastructure Initiative.
Trump Infrastructure Initiative
Buried in the President’s budget is a six-page fact sheet on the administration’s Infrastructure Initiative.
Most of the key principles in the document are similar to what we reported on last week, including
- Investing in public-private partnerships;
- Reducing regulations and streamlining permitting processes for projects;
- Direct funding for projects that won’t attract public funding including
- projects that will increase the GDP
- projects that “lift the American spirit.” (Secretary Chao later clarified that she is thinking about projects that could help the rural areas.)
One of the more relevant — and positive — pieces of the plan is to incentivize innovative approaches to Congestion Mitigation. This may include competitive grants to urbanized areas that institute a suite of solutions including enhanced transit and other means.
What are the warning signs?
The fact sheet on the Trump initiative argues that the Federal Government “inefficiently invests in non-Federal infrastructure” due to the “confusion about the Federal Government’s role in infrastructure.” It also states that the administration is seeking long-term reforms to change this.
This is a warning sign because opponents of federal funding for biking and walking argue:
- That bicycle and pedestrian projects are not in the federal interest. Bike advocates have argued for years, that bicycle infrastructure improves transportation access and helps the local economy which feed into the national transportation and economic systems;
- That funding biking and walking infrastructure is an inefficient use of funding because such a small portion of the population bikes for transportation. Advocates argue that biking and walking are more efficient when they are part of a safe network; and
- That social costs, such as pollution, should not be included in a cost-benefit analysis. Advocates for biking argue that removing or lowering social costs such as pollution are a key argument to funding active transportation.
The overall budget also projects that funding for transportation will return to Highway Trust Fund levels after the FAST Act. This would result in significant cuts, possibly more than a 30 percent cut in transportation infrastructure funding after 2021. This cut would help the overall budget, but is unrealistic. In 2012, the Republican Congress pushed for such an action, and couldn’t get enough support from their members.
What’s happening in Congress?
Since the power of the purse is in the hands of Congress, the President’s budget is more of a guide or a request. So far, leaders of Congress on both sides of the aisle say they prefer to write their own budget rather than follow the President’s outline.
While the larger Congress is caught up in health care and tax reform, the transportation committees are starting to think through their own principles and strategies for an infrastructure bill. In the Senate, Chairman Barrasso (R-WY) has stated their committee will write their own bipartisan bill, and Minority Leader Schumer (D-NY) has already released an outline of a full infrastructure package.
In the House, Chairman Shuster (R-NY) seems to be on the same page with the White House, while the ranking Democrat on the Transportation Committee, Peter DeFazio (D-OR) has suggested any new investment should work through existing programs passed in the bipartisan FAST Act in 2015.
How can Bike Advocates weigh in?
Bike Walk Action, a program of the League of American Bicyclists and Bike New York, is weighing in with Congressional offices, advocating for multimodal transportation solutions and promoting new innovations. We will also continue our work as a watch dog — watching how the Department of Transportation implements current law and institutes policy related to biking and walking.
The best way for individuals to weigh in is to set up a meeting with your Representative when they are in their home district, either the first week in June or the first week in July, and share with them how important safe and accessible bicycling and walking is to you. (You can see from their calendar that House members are also often home on Mondays and sometimes on Fridays.)
To learn more about district meetings, check out this district meeting toolkit, which will give you step by step instructions on how to set up a meeting and what to expect in that meeting.
Here are some handouts that can help with your meeting:
Polling data from Princeton Survey Research Associates International (commissioned by the League in 2016).
Bike Walk Action will hold a 30-minute webinar on federal policy each month. If you are interested in listening please make sure you are signed up to our action alert list at http://bikeleague.org/TakeAction.
Caron Whitaker is Director of Bike Walk Action.