Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Great Lakes Restoration, High Speed Rail Among Republican Budget Cuts

The $38 billion hostages are starting to take name today - and it's a mixed bag for us here in Michigan. The dream of high-speed rail between Detroit and Chicago appears to take a hit, but in what form is unclear at this point. Since these things are done in piecework fashion, any project already awarded funding will continue.

For example, we had already received $153 million in '09 to improve the planned high speed line between Kalamazoo and Dearborn. We also has received funding to improve stations in Battle Creek and Troy, and build a station in Dearborn. And so on. But what it means for future projects is unknown.

The new budget enacts cuts across most departments and agencies, including reductions in defense spending. Transportation Department cuts included those to the president’s high-speed rail initiative, which could potential effect ongoing efforts to improve rail service between Detroit and Chicago. House Republicans cut all of the $1 billion the president originally requested for high-speed rail projects this year and slashed $400 million remaining from the previous year’s funding for the program as well.

Overall, $5.65 billion out of the original $10.5 billion in 2009 stimulus has been granted out to the states, a big chunk of that going to relieve congestion in the Northeast Corridor between DC and Boston. So, important projects will be completed, and we will just have to hope that sanity returns and we can fund the rest of it eventually.

The Great Lakes Restoration has now taken a big hit from original requested funding levels.

Funding for environmental restoration programs around the Great Lakes were cut also. Obama had started out in 2009 by putting $475 million into Great Lakes restoration efforts. This cuts that amount to $300 million – even less than the reduced-$350 million level the president has recommended for next fiscal year.

One program that did survive intact was lamprey control, which had been slated for a 20% cut. That had sent the Great Lakes Fishery Commission into a panic, worrying that any reduction in funding would set efforts back a decade or more. But when it was discovered that the lamprey is a close relation to modern day Republicans, the program was spared at the last minute. For now, anyway.

Other mixed bag news: The Dept. of Energy's loan program for renewable energy projects will survive, but they cut $438 million from efficiency and other renewable energy efforts. They also eliminated the climate czar position. And on the health care front:

More than $1 billion would be cut from programs to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS, and viral hepatitis. The budget deal would also eliminate a provision of last year's health-care law enabling low-income workers to opt out of employer-offered health insurance and shop for more affordable coverage on insurance exchanges to be created in 2014.

Anything to keep sticking it to the low-income worker, eh? Another big blow was losing $890 million from community health centers, also frequented by low income people. What that means to places like the new Cherry Street clinic, that was intended to be a national model as a combined health care center, is also unknown.

Not being mentioned much in all of this are the thousands and thousands of jobs attached to this funding, Ezra predicting anywhere from 120,000 to 450,000 gone because of these cuts.

Something to keep in mind as the new round of austerity negotiations begin. The President will unveil a new proposal tomorrow, and rumors of tax increases are already sending Republicans into a conniption fit. Maybe we can send those fishery guys to figure out a way to deal with them...