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Transpo’s Losses in First Round of Spending Cuts Look Worse Than They Are

2:27 PM EST on March 7, 2011

The two houses of Congress were so much at odds over the Republicans’ proposed spending cuts that they needed two more weeks to bicker about it. So last week, they pushed off a little longer final passage of the budget for a fiscal year that started five months ago. But in order to even pass that measly two-week extension, Democrats needed to accede to $4 billion in cuts.

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About a quarter of those cuts were to transportation. But it’s not as bad as it sounds.

The biggest chunk is $650 million of general fund spending for transportation. But remember, the baseline budget that this money is being cut from is the FY2010 budget. No allocation from the general fund was ever requested for 2011, so this isn’t a real cut since it wouldn’t have been in the 2011 budget in any case. As the Appropriations Committee puts it, “Removing these funds will have no impact on the authorized, mandatory side of the highway program and its limitation of obligations.”

The two-week cuts also targeted unspent earmarks from 2010, including $22 million for HUD Neighborhood Initiatives, $173 million for HUD Economic Development Initiative, $293 million for surface transportation “priorities” and $25 million for rail line relocation.

That all adds up to $1.16 billion in cuts to transportation and urban development. But really, it’s a lesson that when members of Congress advertise to their fiscally-conservative constituencies that they’re cutting money from the budget, sometimes the money they’re “cutting” was never really there in the first place.

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