How Trump's new budget might affect California
President Donald Trump unveiled a budget proposal Thursday that calls for heavy cuts in many areas of government, including at the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Transportation, while boosting military spending by 10 percent and allocating more than $4 billion for a border wall.
Trump's proposal is still just a blueprint, and as NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben and Scott Horsely report, it's more a political statement than a binding document, since Congress controls spending. But it does indicate the administration's intentions.
Here's how it could affect California:
President Trump wants to cut the Environmental Protection Agency's budget by 31 percent – more than any other agency. His plan is to put states in charge of enforcing federal environmental laws, which is a philosophy championed by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
"We're going to once again pay attention to the states across this country," Pruitt told the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. "They care about the air they breathe and they care about the water they drink, and we're going to partner with those individuals, not adversaries."
But there's a catch: in handing more responsibility for environmental protection over to the states, Trump is also proposing to slash the amount of money states have to work with. Funding for "categorical grants," which states use to fund air, water, pesticides, waste and toxic substance programs, would be cut by nearly 50 percent under Trump's budget.
"This funding level eliminates or substantially reduces Federal investment in State environmental activities that go beyond EPA's statutory requirements," the budget reads. In other words, states are welcome to beef up environmental protection, but if they do, it's on their own dime.
In addition, Trump is proposing to rein in or eliminate a number of other federal environmental programs.
Superfund, which cleans up areas seriously contaminated with hazardous waste, would get $330 million less than it did last year, a 57 percent reduction.
The Clean Power Plan, President Obama's embattled regulation designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, would be axed, although there would be no immediate impact because the rule never took effect. It instead remained mired in the federal court system after many states' attorneys general, including current EPA Administrator and former Oklahoma Attorney General Pruitt, sued to block it.
Trump's budget also cuts EPA's Office of Research and Development in half and eliminates grants that fund scientific research.
The budget would also cut the agency's environmental justice office and the office of sustainable communities, according to Vernice Miller-Travis, former acting chair of the Maryland Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities.
In California, about 12 percent of CalEPA's budget comes from the federal government. The State Water Resources Control Board gets the largest share – about $300 million. Those funds are used to clean up polluted streams, make sure toxic substances aren't leaking into groundwater and ensure drinking water is safe. If they go away, the state has to make up that gap. The SWRCB wouldn't comment specifically on the Trump proposal.
California isn't likely to back away from environmental protection. But if some version of the Trump budget passes, it's going to be a lot more expensive.
Trump's budget could slow expansion of the transit system in Los Angeles County. The proposal would cut more than $2 billion from the U.S. Department of Transportation. It's been a major source of funding for some of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's biggest projects.
"It's too early to tell the full impact of what this budget could mean to Metro but currently Metro assumes substantial federal funds in our financial plan, and so a lack of federal funds at the current levels would potentially impact our ability to deliver some of the projects in the Measure M transportation plan," said Metro spokeswoman Pauletta Tonilas.
The Measure M sales tax approved by county voters last November would fund a long list of transportation projects. But the timeline to build them counts on federal funds. If those grants dry up, the last section of the Purple Line subway between Culver City and Westwood could be left with a funding shortfall.
Other early Measure M projects, such as the LAX people mover, might not be finished as quickly as promised. Tonilas said Metro is looking into alternative funding options like public-private partnerships that could help fill in the gaps.
L.A. Metro is better insulated from potential federal cuts than many transit agencies around the country because it is well-funded by local sales tax initiatives. Measure M was the fourth sales tax increase to fund transportation approved in L.A. County since 1980.
Federal funding made up around 18 percent of Metro's budget during the last fiscal year. Federal funding commitments for transit operations and maintenance authorized by Congress through 2021 under the FAST Act would remain unchanged under the president's budget proposal.
Trump's budget would substantially beef up the Department of Homeland Security. The administration proposes $44.1 billion for the department, a 6.8 percent increase over the last fiscal year.
One key item in the budget proposal is $2.6 billion for border infrastructure. The amount includes funding to plan and build wall or fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. It's been estimated that it could cost $21.6 billion to build a border wall, which the president made a key part of his campaign.
Another $314 million would be earmarked to hire 500 more U.S. Border Patrol agents and 1,000 additional U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, many of which could be assigned to California, where an estimated 2.5 million immigrants live illegally.
The budget calls for $15 million to make the E-Verify work authorization program a mandatory rather than a voluntary one. Employers would be required to use the program to ensure their employees are authorized to work in the U.S.
A substantial increase of $1.5 billion over the prior year for detention and removal of unauthorized immigrants could mean larger-capacity detention centers, such as one in Adelanto in San Bernardino County.
To offset the new spending, the budget calls for a reduction or elimination of some state and local grant funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency as well as a 25 percent cost match – both of which would result in a greater expense for California and local governments.
States and local governments could also lose grants from the Transportation Security Administration with the elimination or reduction of $80 million in "unauthorized and underperforming" TSA programs.
The Trump administration's proposed 18 percent cut to the National Institutes of Health would be devastating to Southern California universities and biomedical companies that rely on funding from the agency to conduct groundbreaking research and development, academic and industry leaders said Thursday.
"NIH-funded research is at the base of most of the major advances that we have seen in the areas of health and medicine," said Pramod Khargonekar, vice chancellor for research at UC Irvine. "By cutting research, we are cutting the source of innovation that has made the United States a world leader in biomedical innovation."
The proposed budget would reduce NIH funding by $5.8 billion, to $25.9 billion. It calls for "a major reorganization of NIH's Institutes and Centers to help focus research on the highest priority research and training activities." The administration says its budget also "rebalance [sic] Federal contributions to research funding." It did not specify what it considers "highest priority research" or what it means by a rebalancing of federal research support.
Southern California, one of the country's major biomedical research hubs, receives about $1.7 billion in NIH grants each year, according to Ahmed Enany, president and CEO of the Southern California Biomedical Council.
NIH is the largest source of research funding at UC Irvine, UCLA and USC, providing hundreds of millions of dollars annually to each school. Grants support the jobs of university staff, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and professors. They conduct research on conditions ranging from Alzheimer's disease to cancer, and they pursue innovation in areas ranging from laser technology to biomedical devices.
"It's this … sense of irony over the potential we now have given our tools and technologies to really make breakthroughs that are going to have a positive impact on society, and then to have brakes put on that is disappointing," said Dr. Kelsey Martin, dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
Martin and other university leaders pledged to fight the proposed cuts.
"This proposal will galvanize our community to be able to come together and make sure we communicate the importance of biomedical research to our community, to our society and to our nation," she said.
NIH also supports the work of regional biomedical companies like Allvivo Vascular, which is developing antimicrobial technology to improve the safety and function of medical devices and wound treatments.
Allvivo CEO Jennifer Neff acknowledged that budget cuts might save the federal government money in the short term but argued that it would be wiser to invest in new technologies that lower health care costs over the long term.
"At the end of the day, the people who really lose out are patients," Neff said. "You're going to end up with patients that have worse care, more infections and you're not really going to save money. The government is still going to be spending a lot of money to treat these infections that patients get."