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U.S. budget deal includes money for ART

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

A $1 trillion-plus budget deal unveiled by federal lawmakers Monday contains $50 million for the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project and continued funding for the popular Community Development Block Grant program that communities around the state rely upon.

“It’s a good day for Albuquerque,” said Mayor Richard Berry, who has expressed confidence from the beginning that the funding for ART would come through.

The budget deal also maintains funding for New Mexico’s national nuclear laboratories but provides no money for President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall. It also does not include a rider allowing for federal grants to be withheld from “sanctuary cities” that some consider havens for people who are in the U.S. illegally

The agreement reached by Republican and Democratic leaders late Sunday would pay for federal government operations through the 2017 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

The new federal spending bill would spare – and even slightly increase – funding for three arts-related agencies that Trump had proposed eliminating: the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The 1,600-plus-page bill also would boost funding to fight the heroin and opioid epidemic, providing $3.8 billion to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Albuquerque city officials were breathing a sigh of relief at the news that funding for ART is included, particularly given that Trump’s budget blueprint for next fiscal year calls for significant cuts to domestic programs.

Among the programs Trump has targeted for cuts is the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Program, the same Small Starts grants that Albuquerque has been banking on to provide $69 million for the ART project. Specifically, Trump’s blueprint calls for limiting Small Starts grants “to projects with existing full funding grant agreements only.”

If Congress and the president sign off on the current budget proposal, then ART would qualify for additional funding through the Small Starts grant program under Trump’s budget blueprint for next year.

Berry said it is typical for funding for a project like ART to be split between two budget cycles.

ART will transform Central Avenue into a rapid transit corridor with a nine-mile stretch of bus-only lanes and bus stations. The $119 million project is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.

“I’m excited to see that the expected $50 million of Small Starts funding for the Albuquerque Rapid Transit Project was included in the budget deal,” City Councilor Pat Davis, a Democrat who is running for Congress, said in a statement. “I want to thank Senators (Martin) Heinrich and (Tom) Udall and Congresswoman (Michelle) Lujan Grisham for meeting with me and other city councilors on this important issue and continuing to advocate for Albuquerque. This announcement underscores the importance of having strong leaders at the federal level fighting for us back home.”

The proposed federal budget also contains $3 billion for Community Development Block Grants, a program that Trump wants to eliminate.

On average, nearly $16 million in federal CDBG funds flow to New Mexico each year. Cities and counties use that money for everything from road, water and wastewater projects to senior citizen centers and community center renovations.

“Congratulations to Congress and the president for getting the budget put together,” Berry said. “It’s good news for America. It’s good news for ART. It’s also good news for Community Development Block Grants and COPS Grants.”

Both Republicans and Democrats are praising the budget compromise, which came about after weeks of negotiations. Vice President Mike Pence said the Trump administration “couldn’t be more pleased” with the agreement, calling it a “bipartisan win for the American people.”

Sen. Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, also hailed the deal.

“At a time when Washington is more polarized than I’ve ever seen it, I’m pleased that we were able to reach this agreement for New Mexicans and the American people.,” Udall said.

A House vote on the spending bill is tentatively set for Wednesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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