President Trump has made clear that his budget priorities do not line up with some of the key initiatives that have contributed to the region’s economic resurgence.
Start with the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which provides funds to clean up damage to the world’s largest source of fresh surface water. The budget proposed cutting its funding from $300 million to $10 million, effectively ending a program that has accomplished so much. Just one success story is the Buffalo River. Once deemed biologically dead, it could now be safely swimmable within 12 months. In a decade it may be safe to consume fish from the river. But the job is not finished. And there are dire needs along the Niagara River, Scajaquada Creek and Cayuga Creek, among many others.
The proposed cuts to domestic spending include an 18 percent cut in medical research. Institutions on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, including Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the University at Buffalo, get $96 million from the National Institutes of Health for research. Slashing that amount would severely impact a key element in the local economy, not to mention the delay in developing innovative treatments.
There would be much less money for poor cities such as Buffalo, which benefit greatly from community development, economic development and other federal programs.
Community Development Block Grants now send more than $21 million a year to Western New York communities for such things as neighborhood development projects in Buffalo and funding for after-school programs and housing stabilization in Niagara Falls. And funding for public transit – a necessity for low-income residents – would be cut. The plan to eliminate the low-income Home Energy Assistance Program would leave millions in Northern states scrambling to heat their homes.
Funding for the Coast Guard, which is so vital to securing our borders, would be slashed, with the money redirected to the wall along the border with Mexico. Also high among Trump’s priorities is a huge increase in military spending, most of it benefiting other parts of the country because there is relatively little defense spending around here.
Fortunately for Western New York, Trump’s budget has received a cool reception, even among Republicans.
Asked whether he would defend Trump’s proposals, Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, said: “I’m not going to try to just because it’s not my plan.” Collins promised pushback on cuts to medical research funding for the Buffalo area. He said he wouldn’t cut a single dollar from Meals on Wheels and expressed concerns about cutting the Coast Guard budget. He and Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, have both pledged to oppose cuts in Great Lakes funding.
Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and New York’s two Democratic senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, have voiced strong opposition to the Trump budget. But the burden is on Republican legislators, in particular Collins, who was an early supporter of Trump for president, to block cuts that would be especially harmful to Western New York.
Gutting federal initiatives that have sustained upstate over the years and are now powering some economic progress is not the way to make America great.