President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget proposal suggests cutting funds to most major federal agencies and departments while increasing military and border patrol spending. On Monday, April 10, the League of Women Voters of the San Juans held a panel to predict what San Juan County would be like if Congress, who has the final decision, adopts Trump’s plan.
The Environmental Protection Agency budget is one of the hardest hit; Trump suggests slashing it by 31 percent.
“I don’t think we’ve seen an administration in a long, long time, that is so openly hostile to the idea of conservation and public lands,” said San Juan County Land Bank Director Lincoln Bormann.
According to Bormann, projects in jeopardy, include:
• Puget Sound restoration, which would decrease funds by 92 percent, from $28 million to $2 million under the proposed budget. This includes protection of contaminants running into the sound and is funded by the Puget Sound Partnership.
• Bridges and culverts to facilitate fish passage. This includes projects like the Buck Bay Bridge on Orcas, which was funded through the Salmon Recovery Funding Board.
• Shoreline acquisition to protect undeveloped shoreline for salmon, which has received about $3 million from Salmon Recovery Funding Board over the last decade.
• Orca protection and recovery, funded through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which will be cut by 16 percent.
• The U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s national grant program used to purchase Zylstra Lake on San Juan. Money is secured for this project, but the grant program may be eliminated going forward.
• Endangered species conservation grants through the Endangered Species Act.
• The national Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was started about 50 years ago and recently used to purchase Mitchell Hill on San Juan Island. The proposed budget would eliminate it.
Trump’s proposal would cut federal Health and Human Services by 18 percent and Housing and Urban Development by 13 percent. Tracing federal funds to the county’s resource centers can be tricky, said San Juan Island Family Resource Center Director Jennifer Armstrong.
“We have such a wide spectrum of programs, mostly coming from indirect funding,” she said.
The Community Services Block Grant, for example, channels national funds to the state departments, then to regional agencies like the Opportunity Council in Bellingham, and trickles down to San Juan County.
The SJI Resource Center receives about $20,000 from the Opportunity Council, to prevent homelessness. Yet, the proposed budget would eliminate the Community Services Block Grant, possibly affecting some of those funds.
The Interagency Council on Homelessness and Americorps would also be terminated in Trump’s budget proposal.
According to Armstrong, a Health and Human Services program that could be in trouble, for locals, pays to heat about 70 low-income households each winter. A family of four would need to make $2,500 or less to apply and the average individual donation from the program is about $300 a year. The San Juan, Orcas and Lopez Resource Centers employees check in on this vulnerable population during the program application process to help in other areas as well, said Armstrong. This includes free weatherization to improve homes’ energy efficiencies. This program is funded through the Department of Energy and could also be wiped out under the budget proposal.
The proposed budget would eliminate funds for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. This, said Washington State Arts Commissioner Diane Martindale, of San Juan, accounts for .004 percent of the federal budget.
“Arts humanize and create empathy,” said Martindale, in addition to creating jobs, particularly in San Juan County.
The county has twice the art gallery and individual artist sales per capita in a year as King County, at $451. That’s 84 percent above the national average.
NEA funds must be matched by the state, said Martindale, and without the matching contribution, arts grants might not be eliminated, but would significantly lower. Recent local arts grant recipients include:
• San Juan Island School District
• Orcas Center, which is a performance and visual arts event space.
• Arts for Orcas Kids, which matches local artists to teach grade school classes.
To stay informed on arts funding, visit artsactionfund.org.
Tump’s proposal does not include Medicare, Medicaid and other major entitlement programs, but will likely be included in a separate budget blueprint. Trump has vowed not to cut Medicaid, but the Republican party continues its attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
“With the bill that did not go forward, I don’t know if anyone had a bigger sigh of relief than me,” said Peace Island Medical Center Chief Administrative Officer Merry-Ann Keane about the pulled ACA repeal vote in March.
Keane wants to keep ACA features like coverage for preexisting conditions, low-income Americans and preventative care over emergency care. If the ACA must be repealed, Keane hopes its replacement bill will immediately follow. If not, Medicaid and Medicare cuts, redistributed to the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, would have to be restored to PIMC to offset the cost of coverage under those plans. As part of a larger network of hospitals, PIMC has a buffer, she said, in case emergency funds are needed.
So what if the proposed budget is adopted?
“Let’s say we lost all our federal funding, tomorrow, we’d be in a world of hurt,” said San Juan County Auditor Milene Henley.
Henley suggested the county could put levy lid lifts up to a vote if critical funds were cut. Levy lid lifts increase property tax permanently, or for a certain amount of time.
The county receives the most federal funding from the Department of Transportation, said Henley, but all government — from local to federal — “has an interest in maintaining roads” and she doesn’t see the money drying up.
Don’t worry too much, Henley advised.
“There’s always talk coming out of Washington, but it’s slow to move,” she said. “There are institutions that are designed to move slowly because moving slowly protects us.”
The Upside of Budget Cuts
Proponents of Trump’s cuts point out that a $54 billion reduction in some government spending creates a $54 billion budget for defense.
Fiscal Republicans may also argue that getting rid of federal aid also eliminates external expenses. It may be more efficient and inexpensive for states to fund their own programs. According to an article by Chris Edwards on CNN.com, “By ending numerous federal aid programs, the Trump budget would cut the need for high-paid bureaucrats in Washington to administer the money going back to the states. It would also free the states from costly federal regulations that are tied to aid programs.”
Trump is also being applauded for proposing to shut down the Essential Air Service program, which CBS news reported on for subsidizing half-empty flights to little-used airports costing taxpayers $261 million.
Edwards also makes the argument that programs for the arts, humanities and public broadcasting should be funded by individuals, businesses, and charities not the government.