Trump budget shows shocking values

Education, environment, and cities get snubbed

A BUDGET PROPOSAL is a statement of beliefs and priorities, a document that says, “these are the things we value.”

President Trump’s proposed budget says we don’t value women, seniors, the sick, or our children. And it shows we don’t value education, the environment, and clearly – America’s cities.

The President’s budget, as outlined this week, is a scathing rebuke of a wide range of government programs upon which millions of Americans depend, many without even knowing it. It funds the military to new levels while cutting Meals on Wheels, legal assistance for the poor, community programs for treating opiate addiction, and aid to the arts and humanities. It goes far beyond welfare reform and cuts the very fabric of our social safety net.

Just as concerning, this budget undermines cities and towns all over the Commonwealth and the country by eliminating agency after agency that invest in urban development, planning, public safety, and transportation.

The Economic Development Administration (EDA) provides grants that help spur private sector job growth. In Massachusetts, where innovative sectors are outgrowing Boston and even the 128 corridor, many post-industrial cities and towns are on the verge of revitalization. They have the space and people to support advanced manufacturing, research, and other opportunities, but the infrastructure needs work.

That’s the position Gloucester found itself in 2015 when the EDA provided $555,500 to improve water and sewer infrastructure at Blackburn Industrial Park. The investment represented 50 percent of the project’s total cost, helping to create 150 jobs and leveraging $10 million in private investment. The White House budget eliminates the EDA entirely.

Another place cities and towns take a serious hit: Public safety.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) helps municipalities buttress public safety through grant programs. Whether ensuring adequate staffing for fire departments, providing fire equipment and apparatus, or administering the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program, FEMA plays an important role supporting the budgets of many cities and towns. Last year, Holyoke received over $1.2 million to hire firefighters and keep the department fully-staffed. The White House budget slashes funding by $667 million and installs a burdensome cost-share of 25 percent where currently none is required.

One of the most shortsighted cuts of all will hit small cities and towns the hardest. Anyone who has been involved in the budget mechanics of small and mid-sized communities knows how important Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) are.

In 2014, 38 Massachusetts cities and towns received Community Development Block Grants. The grants gave these communities a flexible funding source for everything from youth services to homeownership assistance. CDBG bolstered Holyoke’s budget to the tune of almost $1.2 million. The White House proposal eliminates the program completely.

At a time when our state desperately needs funding for better public transportation – to help working class people get to work, to get cars off the streets, to eliminate carbon from our air – the Trump budget eliminates a strong source of transportation dollars.

Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants have supported many Bay State projects since the program’s inception in 2009. In 2015, Lowell received nearly $13.4 million for a $16.7 million project to replace and repair six bridges that traverse the city’s canals. The project will improve emergency response time, decrease congestion, and provide better connectivity for the city’s residents and students at UMass Lowell. The White House has proposed to eliminate TIGER.

Our cities are also badly hurt by massive cuts to healthcare funding. In most Gateway City communities the biggest employer is the local hospital. Cuts to the National Institutes of Health will cost this state $2.5 billion if this budget passes. And if your largest employer is not a hospital, it’s likely to be a college or university. The news there? Bad. Grants and loan programs that help students get into school and stay there are decimated.

Meet the Author
As lieutenant governor, I was responsible for the Commonwealth’s relations with the federal government. Then, as now, Massachusetts was a “giver state” – meaning it contributed more tax dollars to the federal government than it received in the form of federal funding. Then, as now, we left money on the table. I could accept that as long as I knew our cities and towns were getting the support they needed. Under this budget we give and give and give – as always – but now there is no return. The people of Massachusetts cannot afford to accept it.

Thomas P. O’Neill III is the CEO of O’Neill and Associates, a Boston communications and government relations firm. He served as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts from 1975 to 1983.