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Trump plan would speed up budget cuts that affect Western New York

WASHINGTON – President Trump wants to get a head start on the massive spending cuts he proposed for 2018 – and just like in that budget proposal, Trump's immediate funding reductions would be aimed in part at a host of programs that benefit Western New York.

Great Lakes funding, community development aid and the transit program that returned cars to Main Street in downtown Buffalo would all take big hits.

So would two programs that have helped local manufacturers, as well as medical research funding. Home heating aid would suffer only a small cut this year, before being eliminated in 2018.

Those cuts would happen in legislation Trump proposed earlier this week to fund the government from late April through the end of the 2017 fiscal year on Sept. 30.

Congressional sources from both parties said Trump's proposed immediate cuts stand little chance of approval from lawmakers, who have to pass a stopgap federal spending bill by April 28 to keep the government from shutting down.

"I believe this will meet a similar fate as their health scare bill did," said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, referring to the failed Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.

But a vigorous debate on Trump's funding priorities has already begun.

The Trump plan outlined in an Office of Management and Budget memo would cut domestic spending by $18 billion primarily to boost defense spending, but also to begin work on the wall the president wants built at the border with Mexico.

"The request for these resources is required to protect our citizens from America's enemies and to fight terrorism overseas before it comes to our shores," John Czwartacki, spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, told The Washington Post. "We must also be mindful of our $20 trillion national debt crisis and how we spend every tax dollar."

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Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., wasn't exactly impressed with Trump's budget reasoning.

"They want to cut programs that create jobs and improve people’s lives, all so the President can get his 'big beautiful wall' – a wall that we don’t need and that will be utterly ineffective," Schumer said. "These cuts would be bad for the American people … and they will be vigorously opposed by members on both sides of the aisle."

Even one of Trump's most vigorous defenders – Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence – spoke out against some of the cuts on Wednesday.

“Western New Yorkers can count on me to fight for key programs important to our community like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Community Development Block Grants, the National Institutes of Health, and the Heating Assistance Program," Collins said. "Not only will I fight against the proposed cuts in the President’s budget, but I will work to ensure these important programs and others are properly funded."

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Higgins will be fighting Trump's proposed budget cuts too.

"Every program the president wants to cut here produces significant life quality benefits and private sector investments" in metro Buffalo, Higgins said.

Trump's proposed elimination of the Department of Transportation's TIGER grant program could produce the most immediate concern locally.

TIGER grants have been funding the return of cars to Main Street in downtown Buffalo.

According to Higgins' office, an $18 million grant to return cars from to lower Main Street near Canalside could be in jeopardy if Congress agreed with his plan to immediately eliminate the program.

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Trump's proposed cuts in – and eventual elimination of – the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative would not have any immediate impact on the largely completed work to clean up the Buffalo River.

But, Higgins' office said the cuts could doom proposed cleanup projects for Ellicott Creek in Tonawanda and Spicer Creek in Grand Island.

Similarly, Trump wants to eliminate the Community Development Block Grant, which funds neighborhood improvements throughout the region. Expected to bring about $21 million to Western New York this year – including $12.5 million to Buffalo – the program would deliver about half that much locally under Trump's proposed cuts.

The Trump plan would also eliminate the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which serves 105,000 families in Erie and Niagara counties.

But his immediate proposal to cut the program's funding 11 percent through September would likely not have a huge impact locally, just because the winter is over and most of the federal funding coming to Buffalo would have already been allocated.

Trump's plan to cut heating aid would hit 92,000 families here

Higgins said he is also concerned about cuts in National Institutes of Health funding, even though the proposed 4 percent cut in that department in 2017 pales in comparison to many of Trump's other proposed cuts. The region received $96 million in research funding from NIH last year, with most of it going to the University at Buffalo and Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

In addition, Trump's plan would cut about half the current-year funding from the Economic Development Administration and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership before eliminating them in 2018. Higgins' office said those programs created or saved about 1,850 jobs in the region in recent years.

Trump also wants to eliminate the AmeriCorps volunteer program – which funded 245 volunteers locally last year – as well as the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, which have funded Buffalo-area cultural organizations.

Commenting on AmeriCorps and similar programs, the Trump administration's memo to Congress said this week: "To the extent these activities have value, they should be supported by the private and nonprofit sectors."

In the end, though, Congress decides how federal dollars get spent. And many of Trump's proposed immediate budget cuts ran into opposition from his fellow Republicans, such as Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning.

"While I support a leaner approach to spending, I also care about preserving programs which create good paying jobs and help people across the region," Reed said. "I am confident that as we move through the legislative process we will find a consensus.”

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