WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump this morning will propose a federal budget with far deeper cuts than suggested by recent media reports, altogether eliminating funding for Great Lakes restoration efforts, eradicating tens of millions of dollars in annual funding for Detroit and slashing job training funds, heating assistance for the poor and a vast array of other long-standing programs.
Defending the cuts as “sensible and rational,” Trump, in a message submitted with the proposal, said it fulfills his campaign promises “to re-prioritize federal spending so that it advances the safety and security of the American people.” But to increase spending in some areas — mainly defense programs, which would see a $54 billion increase — it upends a huge number of other programs and agencies.
For instance, while the Pentagon would specifically get a $52-billion increase and Homeland Security a $3-billion increase, the Environmental Protection Agency would be hit with a $2.6-billion reduction worth nearly a third of its budget. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides vast amounts of aid to cities such as Detroit, would be cut by $6 billion or 13%. The federal workforce is expected to undergo deep cuts as well.
The budget proposal was embargoed until midnight Thursday and is to be formally unveiled today by Trump and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, though it still lacks many of the line-by-line items necessary to gauge its complete impact. It also must be scrutinized by Congress, which will be asked to change spending caps and pass the proposal. Senate Democrats, however, still have the numbers to block it under existing rules.
But even with an uncertain future and lacking details, Trump’s initial budget proposal underscores his intent to take bold, unorthodox steps to eliminate what he sees as wasteful, duplicative programs and redesign the federal government, reducing its size and scaling back what have long been seen as its responsibilities to constituents.
If he succeeds, it will likely have a lasting impact in metro Detroit and across Michigan, as programs — many relied upon by communities for decades — disappear or see funding eviscerated. Among them:
- The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which has received $300 million a year in recent years to pay for improving wetlands, reducing pollution and increasing water quality across the Upper Midwest, would be eliminated, according to the plan, a cut even greater than the 97% reduction previously reported on, as the administration “returns the responsibility for funding local environmental efforts … to state and local entities.”
- The Community Development Block Grant program, which since the 1970s has devoted billions to helping improve housing and living conditions in cities, would be eliminated, which could result in Michigan communities losing some $111 million compared to the current year — including $31 million for Detroit. The rest would be spread around the state, including $5 million for Wayne County, $4 million for Oakland County and nearly $2 million for Macomb County. In Detroit, CDBG funds have helped pay for homeless shelters and transportation for seniors as well as defraying costs for rehabilitation projects for housing and some acquisition and demolition costs in the city's fight against blight. The loss of another HUD program would cost state communities $29 million total as the administration “devolves … activities to the state and local level.”
- The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which helps provide home heating assistance to households, especially those of the disabled, elderly and families with preschool-age children, would be eliminated as would the Community Services Block Grant, through which agencies work to fight poverty. The state said it was on pace to spend nearly $170 million on LIHEAP this year.
- Coastal and marine management grants at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including Sea Grant, would be eliminated. As the Free Press reported last week, Sea Grant includes funding for a joint program between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University that has provided Great Lakes research and advocacy for nearly 50 years.
That’s just skims the surface of what Mulvaney said Wednesday is a budget built around Trump’s campaign promises with reductions “exactly where you would expect it.”
“If he said it in the campaign, it’s in the budget,” he said.
But that is not entirely true — nor does it capture the potential impact of Trump’s budget. Nowhere does it specifically address Trump’s promises to invest in urban areas like Detroit. His plans for jump-starting new infrastructure in the U.S. are also not mentioned — though Mulvaney said Wednesday those are on the way.
Trump’s budget proposal still leaves the U.S. with an approximately $488-billion deficit but Mulvaney said that because of the proposed cuts, it does not add to that deficit even as it pumps more into defense spending, border patrols, terrorism investigations and Homeland Security.
It’s not all bad for Michigan: A hike in defense spending could bolster contractors in the state doing business at the Detroit Arsenal and promises to accelerate spending on the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter could lead to those aircraft being located at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township, one of the sites under consideration. Border spending is focused on the southern border with Mexico — including billions for a proposed wall — but it is possible that $314 million proposed to recruit, hire and train 500 new border patrol agents and 1,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers could bolster the ranks in Michigan as well.
But there is far more uncertainty. While the so-called “skinny budget” lacks many of the details not expected for weeks to come, it notes a $1-billion cut for the Army Corps of Engineers, which could potentially reduce the likelihood of spending on efforts to control Asian carp from spreading into the Great Lakes or on a new super-sized shipping navigation lock at Sault Ste. Marie unless those projects reappear somewhere else in the budget.
The proposal calls for getting rid of a loan program under the Department of Energy to fund alternative fuel vehicles; eliminates a weatherization program to make homes more energy efficient and generally discontinues funding on climate change programs, reducing spending on job training and an employment program for senior citizens and cutting funding for the National Flood Insurance Program’s mapping efforts.
In the Department of Commerce, it eliminates the Economic Development Administration — a move that saves $221 million, compared to the $1.07-trillion discretionary budget — an agency that played a key role following Detroit’s emergence from bankruptcy in helping it to secure grants and loans and build up its technological capacity. It also gets rid of the Minority Business Development Agency, saying it duplicates other efforts.
As part of the EPA plan, the Trump proposal adds to funds that could be used to help pay for local infrastructure efforts — which could be seen as welcome in the wake of the lead contamination of the water supply in Flint — but it also calls for cutting $129 million by forcing the agency to concentrate enforcement efforts on programs not delegated to the states.
What wasn't immediately known is whether such a change would apply to enforcement under the federal Lead and Copper Rule, which is typically deferred to the states. Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality was acting under that authority when it decided Flint did not need to add corrosion treatment when it changed water sources in 2014 —- resulting in lead leaching from old pipes. It was only after the EPA eventually intervened that corrosion controls and other steps were ordered.
Even in areas where Trump had widespread support — such as in the rural 1st District of Michigan — his plan calls for changes. They include gutting funding for the Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes small airports in town like Escanaba, Houghton and Sault Ste. Marie, saying “several EAS eligible communities are relatively close to major airports.” Sault Ste. Marie is a five-hour drive from Detroit Metro Airport.
Trump would also get rid of popular Department of Transportation grants used in the past to help fund the light-rail line in Detroit and pay for bridge replacement in Ann Arbor — and which officials in Woodhaven have been trying to secure for years to solve a tie-up at Allen Road where trains can back traffic up for 2½ hours a day.
In the Department of Education, where west Michigan school reform advocate Betsy DeVos is now secretary, Trump’s budget calls for a $9-billion cut — equal to almost 14% of the budget — eliminating several grant programs, including some for instructional grants and before- and after-school programs, while adding $1.4 billion to school choice programs.
The latter includes $1 billion in new spending to encourage districts with a high percentage of low-income families — like Detroit’s — “to adopt … open enrollment that enables federal, state and local funding to follow the student to the public school of his or her choice.” Such a program is likely to be seen as an attack on traditional public school funding, an accusation that led to DeVos' razor-thin confirmation and widespread antagonism to her nationally.
Trump’s budget plan, while meeting many of his campaign promises to add to the defense spending, comes at a precarious time for his new administration, however. Many conservatives in Congress are defying leaders over proposals for replacing health care reform enacted in 2010, even as it — like this budget — attempts to place more responsibility on states for determining how to cover lower-income individuals and pay for them through Medicaid.
Meanwhile, many of the programs Trump has targeted — including Great Lakes restoration funding — enjoy bipartisan support, making passage of his budget proposal far from certain. Environmentalists have already begun calling on Trump to restore funding, even before his plan was made public.
Mulvaney noted in speaking to reporters at the White House on Wednesday that the proposal doesn't address the largest drivers of federal spending outside of the Defense Department — namely, Social Security and Medicare, programs Trump has said he would not alter.
Mulvaney said as for the current year's budget, he expects a supplemental request to be proposed in the weeks and months to come that will begin to transition the federal government to some of the changes being proposed for next year. That would also have to be approved by Congress in order to move forward.
© 2017 Detroit Free Press