President Donald Trump wants to eliminate a federal grant program that has provided Milwaukee with money for its downtown streetcar-construction project.
The proposal was in a preliminary budget plan Trump released on Thursday. Although Trump’s idea quickly provoked outrage among many groups, particularly those leaning to the left, proposals of this sort are typically used only to outline a president’s policy priorities. The real starting point for federal budgets, though, tends to be Congress.
Trump’s plans calls for spending on everything from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to the arts to be vastly reduced. Among the less-noticed proposals is one that would eliminate funding for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant program.
The program provides money to “innovative projects” — including multi-modal and multi-jurisdictional projects — that are typically difficult to pay for through other federal programs, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s website.
Milwaukee has been awarded money through the TIGER program before. Most recently, the city received $14.2 million for the streetcar’s lakefront line extension. City officials expect crews to begin laying tracks for the $124 million, 2.5-mile project this spring.
And the city’s plans for TIGER grants don’t stop there. Milwaukee officials have expressed intentions to apply for more TIGER grant money to use on future extensions of the streetcar. Last year, the city applied for a $20 million grant to help pay for an extension that would run along North 4th Street, taking passengers to the doorstep of the Milwaukee Bucks’ new downtown arena.
Trump’s budget proposal called the TIGER program “unauthorized,” and said the projects that receive these grants “are generally eligible for funding under existing surface transportation formula programs.”
Cutting the grants would save the federal government nearly $500 million, according to the budget proposal. All told, the president’s budget proposal would have $16.2 billion placed in the Department of Transportation’s discretionary budget, a $2.4 billion decrease from 2017 levels.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said he thinks eliminating the TIGER grants will have no effect on the streetcar. Moreover, he pointed out the overall cuts Trump proposed to USDOT’s budget.
“The President’s proposed transportation budget doesn’t affect the Milwaukee streetcar,” Barrett said in a statement. “More worrisome and surprising is the President’s proposed cut of $2.4 billion to the USDOT’s budget. How this sizable cut squares with his commitment to a $1 trillion investment in the country’s aging infrastructure is concerning.”
At least one federal lawmaker representing Wisconsin was not happy with Trump’s proposed cuts to the TIGER program. Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin said in a statement on Thursday that Trump’s plans would take aim at local development projects like Milwaukee’s streetcar.
“The Trump Administration’s budget proposal would wipe out funding for projects like the streetcar that connect people to jobs,” Baldwin said in the statement.
Even Milwaukee Alderman Mark Borkowski, who originally opposed the streetcar project, said he has mixed feelings about Trump’s proposal.
On the one hand, he said, he feels confirmed in his contention that the streetcar was always a risky investment. On the other, since the city has already spent money on the streetcar, he doesn’t want to see the project fail.Follow @alexzank