There’s no point in mincing words: President Trump’s proposed budget for 2018 would be devastating to Scott County and other rural communities in Tennessee, as well as in most other states.
To help offset a proposed $54 billion in defense spending, as well as billions of dollars for a wall along the U.S.’s border with Mexico and for school choice, the Trump administration proposed significant cuts to discretionary spending, which makes up about three-tenths of the federal budget.
The most alarming cuts proposed by the Trump administration, from a local perspective, include a plan to completely eliminate the Appalachian Regional Commission and end the Community Development Block Grant program.
Both of those programs pump millions of dollars into primarily rural areas, and virtually every major project completed by Scott County and its municipalities in recent years have been accomplished with ARC and CDBG funding.
Without those grant dollars, Scott County could find itself forced to pay for ambulances that have otherwise been purchased with CDBG funds, while Oneida and Huntsville could find its next sewer system upgrades or other infrastructure improvements come directly from taxpayer dollars. The end result, with those moneys redirected into spending for the Department of Defense and a border wall, would inevitably be a tax increase for local taxpayers.
There are a number of other cuts included in the Trump administration’s proposal that are somewhat alarming. For example, the budget proposal would axe funding for the National Park Service, which manages the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, by 12 percent. The BSF is already under-funded, which has led to a backlog of projects, such as the state of disrepair at the historic low-water bridge at Leatherwood Ford that is of significant cultural interest locally.
Trump’s proposal to help fund more private and charter schools in order to allow school choice would come at the expense of public schools. He has proposed to slash the U.S. Department of Education’s funding by 14 percent, which amounts to about $9.2 billion. Among the cuts are $3.7 billion in grants for teacher training, after-school and summer programs, and aid programs for low-income students, as well as cuts to federal work-study aid programs for college students. The end result is that students in Scott County would suffer. Public education is more important in rural areas than in urban, with fewer options available under the so-called “school choice” alternative.
While the Trump budget would increase funding for the Department of Homeland Security, it would axe $667 million from grant programs to state and local agencies, which have helped purchase patrol cars and other equipment for law enforcement agencies.
The budget proposal would also cut 21 percent of the Department of Labor’s funding, and would eliminate the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which helps low-income seniors find work.
The proposed cuts would be easier to swallow if they resulted in a balanced budget, but watchdog groups have said that the Trump budget would actually add $15 billion to the deficit in its first year.
Fortunately, Congress — not the White House — ultimately sets the budget, and both Sen. Lamar Alexander and Sen. Bob Corker, the Republicans who represent Tennessee in the U.S. Senate and have been reluctant to break rank with Trump, have indicated that they will not support the president’s proposed budget. Hopefully, their Republican colleagues in both the Senate and the House, including Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, will rally to their side in the looming fight to cut discretionary spending.
Scott Countians turned out in droves to support a Trump presidency in November. Eighty-five percent of us voted for Trump, the second-largest margin of any Tennessee county. It would be sad irony if Trump’s first budget proposal became policy and had the largest negative impact in the counties that supported him most in his election battle against Hillary Clinton.
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