Trump wants to cut transit money needed for Miami-Dade’s SMART Plan

Redacción Agencias | 5/24/2017, 7:25 a.m.
Trump wants to cut transit money needed for Miami-Dade’s SMART Plan
Airport passengers and commuters board a Metrorail car at Miami International Airport on March 25, 2016 | Foto Cortesía

Miami-Dade’s dream of an expanded rail system may need to detour around the Trump administration’s budgetary wishes.

President Donald Trump’s proposed $4.1 trillion 2018 budget strips about $1 billion from the federal government’s New Starts grant program, the main funding target for Miami-Dade’s “SMART” plan to extend rail countywide. Miami-Dade says it needs at least $900 million from Washington to even consider fully implementing the plan, based on a construction tab of $3.6 billion.

Under the White House proposal, only transit projects already approved for the New Starts funding would receive dollars through 2018. “You guys would have no shot,” said Kevin DeGood, director of infrastructure policy for the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.

The budget released Tuesday by the Trump administration slashes safety net programs for the poor, targeting food stamps and Medicaid, which would be stripped of more than $800 billion over the next decade, while relying on rosy projections about the nation's economic growth to balance the budget within 10 years. The budget also makes deep cuts into student loans and Social Security disability payments, while boosting military spending by 10 percent and earmarking $1.6 billion to start building a wall on the Mexican border.

“We need people to go to work,” White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told reporters Monday. “If you are on food stamps, we need you to go to work. If you are on disability and you should not be, we need you to go back to work.”

The proposed transit cuts are part of a budget blueprint for the upcoming fiscal year that amount to a dramatic restructuring of the government, with protection of retirement programs for the elderly, billions of dollars more for the military and the rest of the government bearing the bulk of the reductions. Also on the chopping block: funding for Amtrak that Sen. Bill Nelson, the Democratic senator from Florida, said would mean the end of the train’s run to Miami.

Trump also proposed supporting $1 trillion infrastructure improvements, through road projects, port facilities and other improvements. The plan highlights for-profit companies to build the projects upfront in exchange for decades of revenue tied to their operations. The Trump plan would lift restrictions on tolling for interstate highways and would lower borrowing costs for companies building government projects.

The proposal drew some shrugs from both sides of the aisle. Since Congress has the authority to write budgets, the president is left with power on either end of the process. He can persuade lawmakers to adopt his plan, and he can veto the entire spending bill when it passes Congress.

“Almost every president's budget proposal that I know of is basically dead on arrival,” said Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and his senior staff flew to Washington last week for a series of White House meetings on potential federal funding. Michael Hernández, the county communications director, joined the delegation and said Trump officials did not offer a preview of the proposed budget cuts that were coming.