Proposed budget is just that, proposed

IF all of President Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts were to take effect unchanged, the result would be devastating to Northeast Michigan.

BUT that will not be the case, as now begins the lobbying and negotiating efforts to determine what stays, what goes and what changes.

And while the federal budget process certainly is nothing new, a new president’s finger in the process has created a stir of major proportions. Since we have no track record with this president as to budget priorities, practices and principles — how his administration and Congress will work out this budget — the fear surrounding the proposed cuts announced this week are more pronounced and louder than normal.

Certainly readers need to be concerned. The announced cuts reflect the initial budget blueprint and as such, were seen by this administration as necessary. But I also need to stress none of them are etched in stone, that is why they are referred to constantly as “proposed.”

Some will indeed stick to the wall. Others will slide off that wall.

In many ways the budget process now reminds me of “chumming” for fish. The Trump administration has come up with all these ideas — let’s consider them baitfish — that have been placed in the water. Now comes the time with federal legislators, agencies, and interested parties all stumbling over each other to gain attention, advance their cause and promote their agenda. They create a frenzy with the public, stirring up the water as they grab at this issue, or counter that one.

For a period it is nothing but chaos from the frenzy.

While many areas of Northeast Michigan life would be impacted should the cuts go through, let’s discuss this morning two particular ones.

The first is Essential Air Service. As proposed in the budget, this $175 million program would be gone. The program, which was an offshoot of airline deregulation in the late ’70s, services 60 communities in Alaska and 115 rural communities in the continental U.S. — including Alpena. Without the program, there is a very good chance commercial service as we have come to know it would no longer exist locally.

In my estimation, this is the most concerning of all the proposed local cuts.

The Essential Air Service program has been on the chopping block before, but always has been preserved. After all, when you have 175 communities that would be impacted, and factor in the federal legislators who represent those communities, the lobbying block against such action quickly becomes significant. At least that has always worked in the past, and as a result the program has survived past scrutiny.

That doesn’t mean it will survive this time, however. I expect this time to see that list of 175 communities pared down significantly (although I expect Alpena will survive and remain on the list) and that major reductions are made in the subsidy reimbursement. As a result, carriers like SkyWest will think twice before coming to marginal places like Alpena, which is going to hurt us. I also expect it will be harder for us, moving forward, to compete with other communities our size for airport funding and grant allocations if our emplanement numbers don’t improve and become more consistent. Looking at the numbers over the past 24 months, the local numbers have to worry local officials.

The second major impact for Northeast Michigan would be Great Lakes funding — things like the NOAA budget for the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Michigan Sea Grant and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Everything from research and documentation to stream restoration to education would be eliminated under the current recommendations. It would be an economic disaster for the community and set back our economy by 10 to 15 years minimum I would expect.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow said the Great Lakes were a national resource. “It would be outrageous if the administration turned its back on the Great Lakes and Michigan.”

Similar comments were made by legislators on both sides of the aisle.

Which again, when you factor in legislators from Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota all joining together on these issues, it makes the prospect of the Great Lakes-related cuts surviving as introduced this week rather remote. And, once again, you start to understand how this process soon becomes very messy and complicated.

I am concerned. I am staying educated on the issues. I am taking nothing for granted.

But neither at this point am I overly worried or upset. It’s too early in the process to stress out.

Let your voice be heard most certainly, but let’s see how this all “shakes out” over the course of the next several weeks.

Bill Speer can be reached via email at bspeer@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 354-3111 ext. 331. Follow Bill on Twitter @billspeer13.