February 06, 2010

Obama's Proposed Federal Budget Cuts for Education and Mass Transit

After the American Century

This is the first year that President Obama and his administration can be said to be fully responsible for the budget proposal. Last year they had just started, and there was little time to dig deeply into the details of federal spending. In what follows I want to focus on spending cuts in the area of education, because during the election campaign candidate Obama seemed to understand the need to improve the levels of learning in the United States. The future belongs to the best educated nation, with a workforce that can innovate and redeploy their resources. Or so it was said.

Now the actual spending proposals suggest no more commitment than under the previous administration. Here are some examples of the cutbacks:

Academic competitiveness, smart grants -58%
School improvement: -55%
Education for the Disadvantaged -31.9%
Special education: - 4.7%
Vocational and adult education: -3.7%
International educational exchange programs: - 0.3%

To be fair, there are other education programs that are slated to receive increases, and this is a difficult budget year. Nevertheless. the cutbacks are disheartening.

What about transportation? One hoped to see an Obama Administration promoting mass transit. The proposal, however, is for a 35% cut for railroads, and a 9% cut for mass transit in the discretionary part of the budget. There is mandated spending on railroads that remains unchanged. By far the lion's share of the transportation budget is mandated, and must be spent on highways. Next at the federal feeding frenzy are the airports, which receive much more than the railroads.

In short, the vast economic mess that the Bush Administration left behind has not only made it hard for Obama to move in a new direction, it seems to make it virtually impossible until the economy improves.

Even when it does improve, however, the increased interest on the national debt will eat up the money that once might have been used for education, transportation, and social programs. The interest payments next year will rise by 33% to $251 billion. Just paying the interest on the debt will be greater than the entire budgets for transportation and education combined, with energy thrown in for good measure.