WASHINGTON – President Trump last week finally confirmed that he is taking $13.6 billion from military construction projects in the U.S. and worldwide to pay for part of his long-promised wall at the Mexican border, but none of that money will come from funds intended for Western New York after all.
The Department of Defense list of military construction projects that will lose money to the border wall include only two from New York State: a $95 million engineering center and a $65 million parking garage at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
That means one local project on an earlier list of facilities that might lose funding – a $14 million fitness center at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station – escaped the funding transfer.
The list of projects that will lose money also included none from the Army Corps of Engineers, which maintains waterways in the Buffalo area and nationwide.
The Trump administration had previously asked the Army Corps to identify projects that could be cut. That move could have endangered $20.7 million in work in metro Buffalo, including dredging and repairs at the Buffalo Harbor and flood-control projects at LaSalle Park in Buffalo and in the Athol Springs section of Hamburg.
Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, said he was happy that local projects would not lose any money. But he offered an unsparing critique of Trump's plans to take money from other military facilities to pay for his border wall.
“While Niagara Falls has been spared from the chopping block for now, projects that support military operations and readiness across the country and the world will be impacted," Higgins said. "This is no way to support our troops.”
The release of the Pentagon's spending plans reflect a kept promise on the part of President Trump.
The president declared a national emergency in February in hopes of shifting funds to the border wall without congressional approval. He has long said that a wall at the Mexican border would be the best deterrent to stop an influx of undocumented immigrants.
Asked by The Buffalo News about the potential local impact of the national emergency declaration a few days before he made it, Trump said: "It will not affect Buffalo at all."
Rep. Chris Collins, a Clarence Republican, pressed Trump not to cut funding at the Niagara Falls base.
“Congressman Collins has kept a sharp eye out to assure our community gets its fair share, as well as the services we deserve," Collins' spokeswoman Jennifer Brown said in a statement. "This includes maintaining a dialogue with the White House when it comes to Western New York priorities."
Still, the announcement of the trimmed-back military projects raised concerns among many lawmakers.
Rep. Tom Reed, a Corning Republican, has long been critical of Trump's emergency declaration, calling it a sign of the failure of Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform including funding for the border wall.
"Reallocating this money should go through Congress, through the appropriations process," Reed said. "I think that would be a wiser course to take for all involved. But in the meantime, I recognize the president has an obligation to secure the border. I believe his reallocating this money to the border is appropriate, given the nature of the border security issues that we face at the southern border."
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer criticized Trump for taking money not only from military projects on U.S. soil, but also overseas. He was particularly critical of Trump's decision to take $177 million out of the European Defense Initiative, a project with U.S. allies aimed at curbing Russian aggression in Europe.
“President Trump is, yet again, putting Vladimir Putin before the security of the American people and our allies," said Schumer, a New York Democrat. "Cutting the funding used to reinforce our trusted European allies against Russian aggression in order to advance the president’s politically-motivated vanity project — that he promised Mexico would pay for — is outrageous, wrong, and weakens our national security."