Bringing federal health, infrastructure funding into sharper focus
By SHERRY HALBROOK
If you get a headache every time you try to figure out what is going on with the federal budget chaos and how it will affect you and the state services you provide, and the ones you and your family use, here is some information and analysis of the two-year budget deal that was passed in February from PEF’s legislative staff and its international affiliate the American Federation of Teachers.
• SUNY hospitals catch a break. No more reductions will be made through September 2019 to an important federal funding stream (labeled DSH) for these facilities that treat a substantial proportion of patients who are uninsured or are Medicaid beneficiaries. That break for the SUNY hospitals will be somewhat offset by a $135 billion cut over a 10-year period in funding for county public health departments. It means the counties will be less able to respond to respond to infectious disease outbreaks and provide immunizations.
• Funding for infrastructure is a bit of a shell game. The feds are promising to invest $20 billion in new funding to upgrade the country’s infrastructure – water, energy, rural broadband and surface transportation.
The president recently unveiled his long-promised infrastructure plan that calls for $200 billion over 10 budget years. And that plan calls for incentives for state and county governments to create specific funding streams for such projects. It also calls for block grants to rural areas and expanding federal loans for infrastructure projects.
AFT is warning its affiliates and members not to take the promised and planned infrastructure funding at face value.
It believes the president’s plan would make people pay more for in fees, taxes and tolls for using services and that a big part of that money will go to corporations and private operators.
In fact, AFT sees the plan actually cutting $1.69 in federal support for every $1 of proposed spending.
“Trump’s plan does not have a single new dollar for infrastructure. He just takes money from existing programs (New Starts, TIGER, Amtrak, and $138 billion from the Highway Trust Fund) and lumps it into a new pot. States and cities have to come up with $1.3 trillion just to get a few ‘top off’ dollars from Washington. It’s an accounting gimmick, not a real plan,” say AFT’s federal budget analysts.
They contrast it with a proposal from the Democratic leaders, who are in the minority in both the House and Senate, that would provide $1 trillion in federal spending on infrastructure.
Both the president and the Dems believe their proposals will create jobs.
AFT believes Trump’s plan “will essentially force state and local governments, unwilling or unable to raise taxes, to use private financing. When private investors invest in U.S. infrastructure, they look for 10 percent to 15 percent annual returns, … which ends up costing taxpayers three to five times more than (financing by) bonds and federal loans.”
AFT also cautioned that privatizing public infrastructure such as highways, water systems, and mass transit can substantially raise the costs for the people who use them. The union cites the example of private utilities that typically charge households 59 percent more than local governments charge for drinking water. “After Coatesville, PA sold its water system in 2001, rates skyrocketed 282 percent by 2015. In Chicago, downtown parking meter rates more than doubled in the five years after they were privatized in a 2008 deal, which also requires the city to reimburse Wall Street for any decision that eliminates parking spots, such as adding bike or bus lanes.”
And AFT said corporate privatization of public services nearly always leads to job losses. It cited an average job loss of 33.3 percent in 10 recent sales of public water systems, and a 56 percent jobs loss (389 jobs cut from 700) when Atlanta privatized its water system in 1999.
The union also expressed serious concerns about the Trump plan’s rollback of environmental protections and its promotion of economic and regional inequality.