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Capitol Watch: Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Request Provides Peek at Administration's Infrastructure Initiative

By Katie Cross, Associate, Blakey & Agnew

On May 23, President Trump released his fiscal year 2018 budget request. The request, titled "A New Foundation for American Greatness," is the President's first full budget proposal, building on the brief budget blueprint released in mid-March. The President's budget proposal includes, in total, $57.3 billion in cuts for discretionary programs, achieved through both project eliminations and reductions.

The request includes a 12.7 percent cut to discretionary spending at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and a 15.8 percent cut to discretionary spending at the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC). It suggests these cuts be achieved in various ways, including through decreased funding or the elimination of programs such as the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, among others.

Despite proposing cuts to current programs, the request holds promise for the possibility of a major infrastructure program. Released as an accompanying fact sheet, the Trump Administration used their fiscal year 2018 budget proposal to outline a federal plan to invest in U.S. infrastructure. As various officials from the Administration, including Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, indicated prior to its release, the proposal includes $200 billion in direct federal spending on an infrastructure initiative. That $200 billion will be used to leverage a total of $1 trillion for infrastructure investments across the nation. The plan does not specifically outline how the $1 trillion number will be reached, instead suggesting it "will be met with a combination of new federal funding, incentivized non-federal funding, and expedited projects."

The plan calls for investments to be made in a "range of sectors, including surface transportation, airports, waterways, ports, drinking and waste water, broadband, and key Federal facilities." While it does not specify how much will be invested in each sector, it does identify four key principles the Administration and Congress should focus on: 1) Make targeted federal investments; 2) Encourage

self-help; 3) Align infrastructure investment with entities best suited to provide sustained and efficient investment; and 4) Leverage the private sector.

The outline also provides examples of potential proposals that the Administration could pursue as part of the initiative. Proposals include the expansion of the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program, which helps finance surface transportation projects, and a liberalization of tolling policy through a reduction of tolling restrictions on interstate highways.

The plan also calls for a review of the permitting process, calling it "fragmented, inefficient, and unpredictable." Changes to the environmental review and permitting process would include designating a single Federal agency to shepherd each project through the process, with a goal of curtailing litigation and increasing accountability.

While required by law, the President's request is not the final budget. Lawmakers do not have to incorporate the cuts or additions the President proposes into a final bill. In fact, The Seattle Times reports that "historically, lawmakers don't pass presidential budgets" and CNN notes that a president's budget is "never adopted wholesale by Congress or, in some years, even in parts." Instead, the presidential proposal is taken into account by legislators when they draft the appropriations bills that will eventually fund the Federal Government.

Blakey & Agnew, LLC is a public affairs and
communications consulting firm based in
Washington, DC.