On Thursday, March 16 President Donald Trump released his preliminary 2018 budget proposal, detailing the changes President Trump envisions for the nation.
The proposals cover only discretionary spending, or optional spending, and not mandatory spending, including Medicare, Social Security, and interest on the national debt. Discretionary spending only accounted for 27% of the federal budget in 2017, but it is in this 27% that almost all budget changes occur.
Trump proposed a $54 billion increase overall to defense spending, as well as $2.6 billion for a border wall on the Mexican-American border and $1.4 billion for school choice. To cover that spending and provide a balanced budget, the president has proposed a number of budget, tax and program cuts to cover the cost.
For Southwest Virginia, an area which overwhelmingly voted for President Trump in the November election, these proposed changes could have deep reaching impacts. Of the dozens of agencies and programs Trump’s budget would stop funding, several operate heavily in the Southwest Virginia region, including the Appalachian Regional Commission, National Endowment for the Arts and the Community Development Block Grant program.
The Appalachian Regional Commission is also one of the most surprising inclusions on the list of cuts as the agency typically sees bipartisan support and does vast amounts of work in the area. Created by President Lyndon Johnson as part of his War on Poverty in the 1960s, the ARC has since spent more than $4 billion developing the Appalachian region’s economy and encouraging investors to make new growth. The Roanoke Times noted in an editorial last week that since the creation of the Appalachian Regional Commission, the number of high-poverty counties has been cut from 295 to 90 and the number of those graduating high school has doubled.
Professor Wally Smith, associate professor of biology at UVa-Wise, shared concern with the Highland Cavalier about Trump’s proposed cuts. “The ARC and Community Development Block Grant programs fund and have historically funded everything from drinking water and sewer infrastructure to school programs, four-lane highways like US-23, and training for health professionals in southwest Virginia,” Smith stated. “If you’ve enjoyed the view from High Knob Tower, had a beer or attended an event at the Inn at Wise, or even used tap water across much of our area, you’ve taken advantage of a project that likely would not have happened if not for funding from the ARC.”
However, Smith stated his biggest concern is that many people are actually unaware of what the federal government does and provides for the area.
“There is a tendency among the public to view any federal agency as automatically wasteful or bad and so many people cheer the prospect of their elimination without knowing how they operate,” Smith explained. “In reality, most of these agencies work closely with state and local governments and fund high-need projects that are originally proposed by local communities like Wise or Norton.”
Cutting the National Endowment for the Arts, which has garnered near universal disapproval from Democrats and even some Republicans in Washington, would also affect several programs in the area. The Southwest Virginia Ballet, Southwest Virginia Museum in Big Stone Gap, The Crooked Road, Mountain Music School, and Pro-Art are among those that would lose funding. Pro-Art provides regular musical and theatrical performances on the UVa-Wise campus and local schools throughout the year.
The various proposed cuts to the Department of Education could also see impacts for students. They significantly reduce federal work-study aid to college students and cut $3.7 billion in grants for teacher training, after-school and summer programs, and aid programs to first-generation and low-income students.
It should be noted, however, that these are only budget proposals and while Congress normally amends the proposed budget, they can throw it out all together as they did with President Obama’s 2016 proposal. A point Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va6) made, stating “the President’s budget is simply a proposal and not the law.”
Congressman Morgan Griffith (R-Va9), who represents UVa-Wise and most of Southwest Virginia, had doubts that all of the president’s proposals would make it through. “ARC has provided money for a lot of good programs in the Appalachian regions, particularly the hard-hit coalfields of Southwest Virginia,” Griffith stated. “I doubt that the cut will be in the final House product.”
Nevertheless, the proposed Trump budget would have profound changes on the Southwest Virginia region and more localized Wise area for decades.