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Trump’s budget proposal would cut WSU research, Spokane’s Central City Line

UPDATED: THURSDAY, MARCH 16, 2017, 10:47 P.M.

A bus departs the STA Plaza on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016, in downtown Spokane. STA’s proposed Central City Line would face big cuts under President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget proposal. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
A bus departs the STA Plaza on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016, in downtown Spokane. STA’s proposed Central City Line would face big cuts under President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget proposal. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget, released Thursday, includes a big defense spending increase and cuts to federal transportation, education, arts and other programs.

What might those cuts mean in the greater Spokane area and North Idaho? It’s too early to tell for some agencies.

Congressional sources in both parties emphasized the budget numbers are preliminary, and more detailed numbers aren’t expected until May. The administration’s proposals also are subject to change over the coming months during the appropriations process.

But if Trump’s proposal goes forward as suggested, here are a few likely local effects.

Central City Line

The modern electric bus line from Browne’s Addition to Spokane Community College could hit a major snag under the Trump budget.

The proposed transportation budget would slash a grant program that Spokane officials have been counting on to build the line.

The Central City Line is undergoing project development with the Federal Transit Administration for a $54 million grant under the FTA’s Small Starts funding program.

Voters last fall approved an increase in sales tax to pay for transit improvements over 10 years, including the cost of operating the Central City Line.

The total local investment in transit is estimated at more than $200 million. The local funding will come from a tenth of a penny sales tax to start in April and another tenth of a penny in April 2019.

The combination of federal and state grants along with local matching funds are to pay for construction of the Central City Line, estimated to cost $72 million.

Spokane Transit Authority was planning to submit its full grant request to FTA this fall. If approved, construction would start in 2019.

Under the Trump budget, the transit grants through the capital improvement grant program would be limited to existing grant approvals, not those projects that have not yet been approved, including Spokane’s Central City Line.

Any changes in funding would have to go through Congress, said Cheney Mayor Tom Trulove, a member of the STA Board of Directors. With the new administration, it’s not clear how transportation will be funded in the future, he said.

“We are trying to figure out what is happening,” Trulove said.

Trump has proposed major transportation infrastructure spending, and if that is approved, it could become the source of grant money for the Central City Line, he said.

“We are very hopeful,” said Trulove, who has supported last year’s successful ballot measure and the Central City Line.

The Trump administration strategy appears “to move money out of existing inefficient programs and hold these funds for more efficient programs that will be included in the infrastructure package under development,” according to the U.S. Department of Transportation website.

Staff in the office of U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said projects like the Central City Line might have to rely on local funding from the people who use those improvements.

Spokane City Councilwoman Amber Waldref, a member of the STA board, said the Small Starts grant program is part of the New Starts program that has enjoyed congressional support for years. On top of that, Spokane taxpayers have been helping fund it for years and now are due for a return on those taxes.

“I will be fighting to keep that program,” said Waldref, a supporter of the Central City Line transit improvements.

She said if the funding opportunity is lost, “obviously that would be real devastating for Spokane.”

Research at WSU, University of Idaho

Trump’s budget would cut $5.8 billion from the National Institutes of Health, about 19 percent of the agency’s discretionary budget. About 80 percent of NIH’s money goes to research projects around the U.S.

In 2016, WSU received 83 NIH grants totaling nearly $28 million. The bulk of those were for research projects, including studies on chronic pain and sleep. Past NIH-funded studies have looked at brain proteins that could help fight flu.

“We have lots of NIH-funded research on things from sleep to addictions to cancer,” said John Roll, a professor at WSU College of Nursing and the university’s senior vice chancellor for academic affairs and research.

As of late February, the university had the equivalent of 391 full-time jobs funded by federal dollars.

The University of Idaho received seven NIH grants last year, totaling $7.2 million.

Though existing grants wouldn’t be affected, the proposed cuts could leave some local researchers without a source of funding for future projects.

Federal student aid

The Department of Education would “significantly” cut funding for federal work-study student aid, which pays students to work on-campus jobs. A dollar amount for the cuts wasn’t apparent Thursday.

Eastern Washington University received $506,000 in federal work-study funding this school year, enough to serve about 185 students, spokesman Dave Meany said.

Defense spending

The biggest increases in the budget go to the Defense Department, which would see its spending increase by about $52 billion.

But this “first look” budget doesn’t have enough details to say whether Fairchild Air Force Base or any of the other major military and naval installations in Washington would see significant increases in their budgets.

While the Defense Department sees the largest increase in the budget proposal, the details of how that money would be spent does not provide information for a specific installation, like Fairchild Air Force Base. It includes more money to fight the Islamic State group and improve troop readiness, about $7 billion more for the Pentagon’s operations and maintenance budget, and $13.5 billion more for procurement, which includes Boeing Apache helicopters and F/A-18 Super Hornet jets.

The Veterans Affairs Department gets a $4.4 billion increase to “improve patient access and timeliness,” but there are no specifics on changes in policies or programs.

Federal lands and wildfires

The Interior Department budget calls for a reduction in Payment In Lieu of Taxes from the federal government to counties that have federal lands not subject to local or state property taxes. The money often is used for schools and roads in rural counties, and often is targeted for cuts by administrations of both parties, prompting bipartisan efforts by Western states’ congressional delegations to get the money restored.

The Forest Service likely would continue to borrow money to fight wildfires, if there are severe fires this year. Congress has been trying to change that practice and dedicate more money to firefighting. The agency’s budget, however, calls for using the current system and setting the amount at a 10-year average of firefighting costs.

Arts, public broadcasting cuts

The National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities are both on the chopping block.

Both endowments have a number of local projects that are being funded, including a $22,000 grant to Gonzaga University for a course on the value of play, and a $10,000 Spokane Symphony grant to fund a music education project for elementary school children.

Also slated for elimination: the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports public radio and television stations.

KSPS TV, Spokane’s PBS affiliate, receives about 18 percent of its budget from federal funding, General Manager Gary Stokes said. If that cut were to go through, it wouldn’t eliminate the station entirely, he said.

“It would prompt us to either try to do something cost-cutting or find other sources to replace some or all of that lost income,” he said.

Each year, about $10,000 in grants from the National Endowment for the Arts helps pay for the Spokane Symphony’s music education outreach to low-income students, concerts for fourth-graders and the symphony’s cultural exchange program with the Spokane Tribe in Wellpinit, said Jennifer Hicks, director of development for the symphony.

Mike Prager and Jim Camden contributed to this report.



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