Impacts of the 2017 federal budget on Great Lakes restoration efforts and what’s in store in upcoming Congressional budget negotiations for 2018.
Where are we in the budget process?
In May, Congress reached an agreement on the budget for the current fiscal year (2017), which runs through September 30. President Trump signed the budget bill on May 5. Agreeing upon a budget in the middle of the fiscal year is unusual and not how funding the federal government normally works. Ideally, Congress finalizes federal appropriations in the fall, before the start of a new fiscal year on October 1. Now, Congress will turn its attention to the upcoming 2018 fiscal year budget, which needs to be passed before October 1.
What is the outcome for Great Lakes programs in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget?
The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative received $300 million—the same level of funding it has received in recent years. Other programs benefitting the Great Lakes, like the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, maintained similar funding as in fiscal year 2016. The Clean Water State Revolving Fund received $1.39 billion to help communities afford the cost of repairing or replacing their wastewater infrastructure. The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which helps communities pay for drinking water infrastructure upgrades and fixes, was funded at $863 million.
Why was Congress still working on a budget in the middle of the fiscal year?
Over the past several years, Congress has not been able to pass federal funding through the normal appropriations process. Traditionally, members of Congress in charge of funding the federal government are responsible for passing 12 appropriations bills that fund various parts of the federal government, such as the EPA, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service – agencies instrumental in funding Great Lakes restoration activities. Over the past several years, Congress has failed to do that and instead has passed continuing resolutions—short-term budget deals that keep the government funded until a longer-term funding agreements can be ironed out. Following the November elections, Congress passed a continuing resolution that would fund the government for the current fiscal year of 2017 through April, leaving it up to the new Congress to finalize funding details for the current fiscal year.
How has the Trump Administration viewed Great Lakes programs?
For fiscal year 2017, President Trump indicated an interest in cutting funding to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative by $50 million, but both the U.S. House and Senate rejected any cuts. President Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 recommends eliminating the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. (Rumors prior to the release of the president’s budget had suggested the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative would be cut by 97 percent (down to $10 million in funding), but the final proposed budget included a 100 percent cut, zeroing out the program.)
How do President Trump’s proposed cuts to the overall budget factor into funding Great Lakes programs?
President Trump has requested a shift of $54 billion to defense spending from non-defense, discretionary spending—the category of the budget that funds agencies important to Great Lakes restoration work. The U.S. Congress holds the power of the purse, which means the final budget will be up to members of the U.S. House and Senate. However, some members of Congress may want to enact the proposed cuts from the president.
What will happen if the proposed budget cuts are enacted?
Great Lakes restoration efforts will stop dead in their tracks. The region will fall short of its Great Lakes restoration goals if the federal agencies that are vital partners in our restoration efforts have their budgets cut. The U.S. EPA, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Army Corps of Engineers, Coast Guard, National Park Service, and Natural Resources Conservation Service all provide critical administrative and programmatic support that helps us ensure the success of both the GLRI and other restoration activities in the region. These departments and agencies are critical partners with Great Lakes states, cities, industries, Tribes, and non-governmental organizations. Cutting EPA by 31 percent, USDA by 21 percent, and the Department of the Interior by 12 percent as proposed by the Trump Administration is unacceptable.
How do cuts to federal agencies factor into this?
The ability of federal and state agencies to protect the drinking water and clean air for all Americans will suffer. For example, cutting grants from EPA to states by 45 percent eliminates hundreds of federally funded positions in state agencies that have the delegated responsibility to enforce critical laws like the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. Also, eliminating funding for programs like Sea Grant only harms the health and resilience of our coastal communities and makes it extremely difficult to make progress on critical clean-up efforts in places like western Lake Erie where Ohio Sea Grant serves as a key part of the work to reduce harmful algal blooms.
What’s next in the budget process?
The next big decision on the fiscal year 2018 budget will be made by Congress with a budget resolution that allocates top-line funding to agencies and departments within the government. That will likely occur in late May or early June. From there appropriators will allocate funding to different programs within agencies. Like other legislation, appropriations bills must be voted out of committee before being voted on by both the House and Senate. Any differences in the House and Senate bills must be reconciled before being signed into law by the president. Between now and the time appropriations committees meet, members of Congress are gauging support via sign-on letters for restoring funding to various programs, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. For example, shortly after President Trump proposed slashing Great Lakes funding in March, 63 Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress signed on to a letter in support of $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the fiscal year 2018 budget. Congress will likely consider its budget resolution soon followed by House and Senate appropriators writing bills to fund federal agencies over the summer and into the fall.