President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint, released Thursday, promises big money but offers few details for the Peninsula’s biggest economic motors — shipbuilding and the military. But it also proposes cuts that would be felt immediately and that indicate how closely federal spending is woven into daily life here.
The biggest increase, $54 billion for the Department of Defense, includes a commitment to expand the fleet, but no specifics on timing or mention of the promise he made in his visit to Newport News Shipbuilding for a 12th aircraft carrier, up one from the current fleet.
And among the cuts is the complete elimination of federal support for Chesapeake Bay cleanup.
“It’s truly a mixed bag,” said Craig Quigley, executive director of the Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance. “There are some plus-ups and some reductions.”
On the plus side for the economy, in addition to ship construction, the budget promises increases in maintenance for ships and aircraft, he said. The budget also calls for hiring medical staff at Veterans Administration facilities like the center in Hampton.
On the negative side, part of the 12 percent cut for the Department of Interior is coming in maintenance for national parks and monuments, which could hit Fort Monroe and the Colonial National Historic Park. The nearly 16 percent cut from the Commerce Department hits the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hard, particularly ocean research efforts that include operations in Norfolk and Chesapeake, he said.
While NASA got by with a 0.2 percent cut, the cuts it will see come in education and earth science programs, including the CLARREO Pathfinder program for the International Space Station to produce accurate climate records. The budget also ends the $1.35 billion Asteroid Redirect Mission, or ARM, which aimed to place a multi-ton boulder from an asteroid in orbit around the moon, giving NASA experience for deep-space missions.
The blueprint also proposes a $900 million cut in the Energy Department’s Office of Science, which, among other things, funds Jefferson Labs.
Translating the budget blueprint into dollars and cents at this early stage is hard to do, even for those with the most at stake.
“We are pleased that the president is continuing to invest in tomorrow’s Navy,” said Newport News Shipbuilding spokeswoman Christie Miller. “This the first step in a long and complex process, and therefore it would be premature to speculate on possible outcomes and impacts.”
“It’s kind of a double-edged sword for us — there’s increased defense spending and looks like there’s two camps on a BRAC round in ’19 or ’21. ... With defense, we don’t know where that’s headed, and that’s the good news,” said Newport News Mayor McKinley Price, referring to the periodic review of which military bases should remain open.
The bad news, he added, is clearer — a lengthy list of programs, from the block grants Newport News and other cities use to fund a wide range of programs for the needy, to funds for economic development, to support minority businesses and to tackle sea level rise. One Department of Housing and Urban Development program the city was hoping might provide as much as $30 million for a major renovation of the Southeast Community would disappear under the Trump budget, he said.
“It’s like they’re taking from those who are in need,” Price said.
Margaret Nimmo Holland, executive director of Voices for Virginia’s Children, said she’s worried about cuts to already-reduced federal programs for youth, in tandem with the caps on Medicaid spending proposed in Affordable Care Act replacement legislation Trump is backing. She fears it will force Virginia to choose who gets priority for Medicaid-funded health care — children, people with disabilities or indigent residents of nursing homes.
“It’s not good, it’s not good,” said Karen Wilds, executive director of the Newport News Redevelopment and Housing Authority.
Trump’s proposal to eliminate HUD’s $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program cuts funds the authority uses to support Transitions Family Violence Services, the Boys and Girls Club branches in public housing, the Peninsula Area Agency on Aging’s Meals on Wheels program and Menchville House Ministries’ shelter for homeless women.
Wilds said funds for renovating public housing, like the work now underway at Marshall Courts, could be at risk, as well as the money that funds Section 8 rent subsidies for low-income families, which aids 2,500 in the city.
Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck said he’s worried about cuts to education, as well as the $1.8 million to $1.9 million the city receives in HUD block grants, which it uses to support Habitat for Humanity and housing rehab programs citywide.
“That’s the equivalent of two cents on the real estate tax rate,” he said.
Trump’s budget cuts a number of education programs, including elimination of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. These after-school programs operate in both Newport News and Hampton.
Hampton schools alone got $1.5 million from the program in 2016. Nationally, the program costs about $1.2 billion a year, and the administration said in its budget outline that it “lacks strong evidence of meeting its objectives, such as improving student achievement.”
In Newport News, the program serves 361 students in grades three through eight at Carver Elementary, Jenkins Elementary, Sedgefield Elementary and Hines Middle School, offering them six additional hours of instruction and learning each week with after-school and Saturday programming. The students receive tutoring and hands-on educational experiences, and participate in field trips and college tours.
John Fredericks, the Hampton Roads talk radio host who was Trump’s Virginia vice chairman during the campaign, called the proposal “a revolutionary first budget” that makes good on campaign promises.
The budget doesn’t hit Medicare or Social Security, Fredericks said, it reinvests in the military and shrinks the nonmilitary federal workforce.
“That is the best news of this budget,” Fredericks said. “We have to stop the continual growth of federal employees.”
The fact-checking organization PolitiFact reviewed the Trump administration’s claim that there has been a “dramatic expansion of the federal workforce in recent years” and found it to be mostly false. Office of Personnel Management records show that the federal workforce has hovered right around 2 million for decades, PolitiFact reported.
Fredericks said the budget shows that Trump is “attempting to execute real reform and real change” and should make supporters smile.
“If you’re a Trump supporter, this budget is a bonanza,” he said.
But Sen. Mark Warner complained the budget includes “many short-sighted choices that if implemented could actually harm our country’s strength and long-term growth.”
Warner, a key player on the Senate Budget and Finance committees, said he is upset by deep cuts in early childhood education, job training, scientific research and protection of the Chesapeake Bay.
And although the budget calls for increased defense spending, Warner said it did not address the effect the across-the-board spending cuts in recent years have had on the military and national security.
“The budget also shows President Trump intends to keep treating federal employees as a punching bag, while in reality these workers are patriotic Americans who keep our government running,” said Sen. Tim Kaine. More than 170,000 Virginians work for the federal government.
The budget also eliminates funds for the Sea Grant program, which funds research and education at seven Virginia universities, including the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester Point and Old Dominion University in Norfolk.
National security worries
Kaine, a member of both the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, said he supports the Trump administration’s commitment to investments in defense but added that the 28 percent cut to the State Department jeopardizes national security. It could also hit the Virginia-based organizations that have U.S. Agency for International Development contracts worth more than $1 billion a year.
“While the administration’s ‘Budget Blueprint for 2018’ does increase the base defense budget, I’m concerned that the modest increase may not provide adequate funding to restore our military’s readiness and could lead to a situation where we are letting budgets dictate our strategy, said Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland, chairman of the House Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee.
And instead of Trump’s proposal to cut all funding for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup, Wittman said he wanted to see the program funded at least to last year’s level of $73 million, adding that his 2014 legislation to increase coordination and transparency in Chesapeake restoration efforts showed there is wide support for a federal role in maintaining the health of the bay. He said he’ll push hard for that funding.
“I am particularly disappointed by the total elimination of funding to clean up the Chesapeake Bay,” Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam said. “As an Eastern Shore native, I know protecting the bay has both economic and environmental impacts.”
Gov. Terry McAuliffe said Virginia would be especially hard-hit by ending federal support for cleaning up the bay, eliminating the Appalachian Regional Commission and deeply cutting the number of federal government workers, many of whom live in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia.
“Spending Americans’ hard-earned tax dollars on an unnecessary and impractical border wall is political pandering that will divert resources and focus from homeland security functions that actually work,” McAuliffe said.
Warner, Kaine and McAuliffe are all Democrats.
“This budget proposal is yet another broken promise from the administration to the American people. Cutting $54 billion from programs that help protect and support working families to learn and earn is no way to grow the national economy or put people back to work,” said Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, D-Newport News.
“President Trump’s budget proposal eliminates and reduces vital programs for students, teachers and workers that will endanger public education, make college less affordable and reduce the availability of workforce training,” Scott said.
Rep. Scott Taylor, R-Virginia Beach, did not respond to a request for comment.
Staff writers Travis Fain and Tamara Dietrich contributed to this report. Ress can be reached by phone at 757-247-4535.