Make cities ‘great’? Trump’s budget says otherwise

On the campaign stump and now in his seat of power, Donald Trump’s blathering about being “great” for American cities has never been anything other than empty sloganeering. His first budget proposal, a $1.1 trillion “blueprint” unveiled last week, is the latest proof.

If enacted, the Trump White House would eviscerate critical funding to cities, including Boston, including the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the Community Services Block Grant program— ostensibly to re-direct $4.2 billion for Defense and other spending.

In a press conference last Thursday, Mayor Martin Walsh itemized just how devastating the loss of block grant funding— which last year pumped $24 million into city-run programs– would be.

“Our community will be hit hard by the proposed elimination of help for households in immediate danger of being without heat and Community Development Block grants that support the production of affordable housing and the revitalization of our Main Streets,” said Walsh. What else is at stake for people in our neighborhood?

Take the $3 billion slash to Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The head of Boston’s public housing department— Bill McGonagle— told the Bay State Banner that such cuts would decimate the BHA’s voucher program. “We could not even remotely meet our core mission of decent, safe, and sanitary housing,” McGonagle told the Banner.

Still unclear is just how deeply the Republican cuts would damage Boston’s public safety capacities. New York City, which counts on heavy federal dollars to subsidize its anti-terror operations, says the Trump budget will zero-out “nearly all federal funding to the NYPD,” according to their police commissioner. Boston relies less on that stream of funding— but still could see significant disruption in the form of Department of Justice grants that assist in community policing programs.

Gov. Charlie Baker is signaling his own alarm with a focus on what the Republican plan for “reforming” the Affordable Care Act would mean for the state’s health care system and overall economy. The bottom line, by Baker’s estimation: $1 billion less in federal revenue for Massachusetts in 2020, $1.3 billion less in 2021, and $1.5 billion less in 2022, “with likely a greater annual impact in the years that follow.”

Baker called Trump’s proposed 22 percent reduction in federal research for the National Institutes of Health “not just bad for Massachusetts; it’s bad for the country.”

It’s also especially bad for our cities. Apologists for this president tell us we should give the new administration room to make its case. But we’ve seen this sort of slash and burn strategy before. It’s a deliberate, punitive disinvestment in communities that have the most to lose, an injury compounded by the insult of decades of earlier disinvestment.

While it’s likely that this budget proposal will not pass without some tinkering by Congress— especially on the health care front— don’t count on any significant effort to save the vital block grants that are critical to Boston’s neighborhoods. Elections have consequences. Unfortunately for communities like Dorchester and Mattapan, the elevation of Trump and his GOP enablers will have some very unhappy consequences indeed.