CEO’s Corner: February/March 2017

220px-Thomas_P_O'Neill_IIICampaigning is different than governing. President Trump recently unveiled his budget blueprint and in doing so formally, he made clear his policy plans for our country. At the state and municipal level, the proposed budget doesn’t bring good news. If adopted, the budget would dramatically impact the ability of America’s urban mayors to continue to operate healthy, thriving communities. This was the message I delivered in an op-ed that ran in CommonWealth Magazine last week.

At the intersection of policy and budget are real people – yet his proposal fails to make that connection. This long tally of crucial cuts will affect cities from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine. The reductions don’t just weaken or eliminate essential federal programs intended to help disadvantaged families, but they strike at the very core of America’s cities – the places that drive so much of our current innovation and economic development – and their ability to function and thrive. After all, the private sector cannot prosper when basic public services such as transportation become severely hobbled.

From a $6 billion cut to Housing and Urban Development that will devastate affordable housing, development and public parks, to the elimination of Amtrak subsidies, to a massive $16.2 billion cut to public transportation – taken together it is a recipe for stopping cities in their tracks, stymying growth and development and throwing a wrench into the engine that makes our country run – our great urban centers. Take one example: a $2.3 billion cut to matching federal funds for new or expanded public transportation projects that are co-funded by cities. More than 40 cites, from Albany to Tempe, will lose new subway systems, tramways, light rail and assorted other carbon-cutting, people-moving job creators.

Some of the cuts directly impact households. A cutback of more than $4 billion will decimate Health and Human Services programs, including Home Energy Assistance. So, what is the plan when the elderly and poor in Chicago and Boston and Seattle cannot afford to heat their homes next winter? Section 8 landlords will lose tenants, urban hospitals will lose grant dollars, urban colleges will see huge cuts, and public housing will suffer catastrophic drops in funds for everything from vouchers to maintenance and construction money. The list goes on.

Federal budget impacts will be locally significant and very real. However, submitting a budget is much easier than persuading Congress to pass it. States, municipalities and individuals must carefully scrutinize the president’s proposal and make their voices heard in Congress – just as they did in the failed attempt to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act. The time to engage Congress is now.