Infrastructure Investments – A Silver Lining in a Dark Cloud: Obama’s 2012 Budget

By now, you have probably seen President Obama’s proposed 2012 budget. If you are reading this blog, it’s likely that you are a smart growth advocate. If that’s the case, chances are that you are as torn and surprised as I am at how the President has managed to both promote a key principle of smart growth, while critically wounding another.

I’ll start with the bad news. Obama’s budget reflects a proposal he alluded to in his State of the Union address: cutting in half the Community Service Block Grant (CSBG). The CSBG is a main source of funding for community action groups (including the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, a major partner of RenewLV). These groups provide a multitude of services, with the overall goal of helping people achieve economic security. They directly and indirectly promote job creation, small business ownership, and other programs to help those in need get back on their feet. The effects of this cut in funding, if it is passes in the final budget, may prove devastating. Take a look at the National Association for State Community Service Programs’ (NASCSP) press release regarding the cut.

The good news is that the budget proposal contains a few significant measures to invest in smart growth programs. Smart Growth America‘s CEO and President Geoffrey Anderson posted a statement on the organization’s blog applauding the President. He notes the particular provisions endorsed by Smart Growth America, including those which (quote):

  • Support an interagency effort led by HUD and the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration to help distressed cities and regions utilize public resources more strategically and to form partnerships to support job creation and economic development.
  • Stimulate economic growth in areas stymied by brownfields by providing technical assistance towns and cities and maintaining an area-wide planning program to integrate sustainable community development with environmental remediation activities.
  • Invest in sustainable, innovative communities by providing $150 million to create incentives for more communities to develop comprehensive housing and transportation plans that result in sustainable development, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and increased transit-accessible housing.
  • Preserve the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program. This will continue to enable State and local governments to address infrastructure, affordable housing, and economic development needs in their communities. [Note that the CDBG is different from the CSBG. The CDBG also faces proposed cuts.]
  • Include a six-year framework for funding surface transportation programs to modernize the country’s transportation infrastructure, create jobs, and create sustainable investments for long-term economic growth. The President plans to work with the Congress to ensure that the plan will not increase the deficit. This type of reform are precisely in line with recent polls, including one released today by the Rockefeller Foundation which shows that voters believe strongly that providing a modern, safe infrastructure is a primary role of our government.
  • Promote infrastructure repair policies that will ensure that transportation agencies stop siphoning off money intended to rehabilitate bridges and highways.

It is great to see that the President has produced a fiscally responsible budget that promotes aspects of smart growth. However, the vision shared by organizations like RenewLV are not limited to a few specific programs and resources. Smart growth encourages those initiatives as a means to achieving a viable urban reality, in which American cities live up to their promised potential. Cutting the CSBG has the potential to destroy programs that fight poverty, aid small businesses, help children receive an education, and promote safe, diverse, healthy neighborhoods. In other words, community action groups support economic growth and directly work towards smart cities.

Fortunately, the budget proposal is just that: a proposal. In the coming months, the President will have to negotiate with advocates from around the nation and with Congress in order to draft a finalized budget. Please, consider lending support to the effort to save the CSBG. Sign this online petition to remind the President of the importance of community action groups, and stay tuned to RenewLV and CACLV for updates.

The proposed federal support for transportation and infrastructure initiatives are fantastic. It’s just a shame that these provisions come alongside such damaging cuts to our communities.

Posted on February 17, 2011, in Federal Policy, Neighborhoods, Transportation, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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