Congress Rejects Big Budget Cuts

Six months into fiscal year 2018, Congress has finally set spending levels for federal agencies and programs.  The $1.3 trillion omnibus appropriations bill includes great news for many programs for which the Trump administration proposed elimination or significant cuts.

In the transportation world, the legislation fully funds the key transportation programs authorized by the FAST Act transportation law, including the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), which is slated for $850 million this year.  Legislators also pumped an extra $2 billion into the Surface Transportation Program, which will go out to state DOTs and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to support range of transportation priorities.  Also of critical importance:  Congress did not include a rescission to reduce transportation spending, which also means that the Woodall amendment was also eliminated.  This helps ensure that state DOTs cannot take back the funds available to MPOs, including for TAP.

Congress tripled funding for the federal multi-modal TIGER grant program instead of eliminating it—bringing it to $1.5 billion for this year.  Given that USDOT recently announced the FY17 TIGER grants and they included a number of Complete Streets and trails projects in places like Frankfort, KY and Carson City, NV (while unfortunately underfunding transit projects), we are hopeful that the funding influx into TIGER will pump more money into transformative biking and walking projects nationwide. The bill also increased funding for Amtrak and new transit projects, going against the significant cuts proposed in President Trump’s budget.

There were a number of other noteworthy developments for programs outside of transportation that impact efforts to get people moving, including:

  • Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), which were targeted for elimination, saw a 10 percent increase.  CDBG funds help local governments undertake a wide range of initiatives—including affordable housing and transportation options (including sidewalks).
  • The CDC’s Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) program was level funded at $50.95 million instead of being zeroed out. REACH is a grant program to reduce health disparities and often includes efforts to increase physical activity levels.
  • The US Department of Education Title IV Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants, which help school districts offer a range of student health and safety activities, more than doubled funding to $1.1 billion.
  • The Land and Water Conservation Fund increased slightly instead of being nearly eliminated.  This program supports acquisition and maintenance of parks, green spaces, trails and other places where people can be physically active.

All in all, the new FY18 funding bill offers good news in many ways.  Many of the cuts that the Trump Administration had proposed for FY18 have been proposed yet again for FY19. Hopefully Congress will once again rebuff these efforts to strip funding away from making our communities healthier.