PORTAGE — The budget blueprint issued Thursday by President Donald Trump's administration calls for substantial cuts in federal spending, including cuts to the Department of Transportation that would eliminate the program that would provide significant funds for the South Shore Line's West Lake Corridor and Double Track NWI projects.
The proposal limits funding in the Federal Transit Administration's Capital Investment Grant program to projects that already have full funding grant agreements. Neither South Shore project has reached that level.
West Lake would require more than $300 million in federal funds, and Double Track about $145 million, according to recent cost estimates. The budget proposal states: "Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects."
Visclosky argues for funding
Reaction from members of Congress on Thursday generally ranged from cautious to hostile, with many Republicans joining Democrats in opposing elements of Trump's plan.
U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, anticipating the threat to the Capital Investment Grant program, has testified before House committees twice in recent weeks to argue that the transportation grants should be maintained.
Visclosky testified before the House Budget Committee on March 2, and the Appropriations Committee on March 9. He noted ongoing efforts in the Indiana General Assembly to fund the South Shore projects.
"I strongly support the initiative in the Indiana General Assembly," he told the Appropriations Committee. "But it will all be for naught if the Capital Investment Grant program is not adequately funded."
"Reducing funding for this critical program would be counterproductive to our goal as federal representatives to support jobs and economic development."
Proposed U.S. Department of Transportation cuts would total $2.4 billion, or 13 percent of the department's discretionary funds. Among them would be eliminating the TIGER, or Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, grant program.
The proposal says that TIGER-eligible projects "are generally eligible for funding under existing surface transportation formula programs."
The South Shore, in conjunction with Michigan City, had received an $800,000 TIGER planning grant in 2010. In their recently issued five-year capital plan, South Shore officials include the possibility of applying for TIGER funding for assistance in realigning the railroad in South Bend.
The budget proposal also would end federal funding for Amtrak's long-distance lines, which "would allow Amtrak to focus on better managing its state-supported and Northeast Corridor train services," according to the president's proposed budget.
And, the proposal would shift air traffic control "to an independent, non-governmental organization," and would eliminate a subsidy program for commercial air service at rural airports.
Region officials studying proposal
Hours after the Trump administration issued its budget proposal, Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission officials said at their Thursday meeting they will thoroughly evaluate the proposal, with the intention of developing a response to share with members of Congress.
"This is in some ways a first salvo," NIRPC Executive Director Ty Warner noted. "Obviously the Congress approves the budget."
Other programs across the government also would be affected — Warner noted the proposal's elimination of support for National Heritage Areas. A feasibility study proposing creating a Calumet National Heritage Area was published earlier this year.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the budget proposal includes "something that impacts every community in this group."
"If the budget is passed as proposed — and we know it won't be, but even if it's close — we all stand to lose quite a bit."