FORUM EDITORIAL: Diversion's fate at risk in Trump budget proposal
It's estimated the federal government's share of the $2.2 billion Fargo-Moorhead diversion would be $450 million. That's a big sum, but viewed in the context of the $3.8 trillion annual federal budget, it's a speck. And the government estimates t...
It's estimated the federal government's share of the $2.2 billion Fargo-Moorhead diversion would be $450 million. That's a big sum, but viewed in the context of the $3.8 trillion annual federal budget, it's a speck. And the government estimates the diversion could prevent $10 billion in damage from a catastrophic flood-as well as save lives. The federal share would be about a fifth of the project's cost, with the rest coming from local and state governments in North Dakota.
In other words, the federal share of the diversion is a bargain for U.S. taxpayers. Local taxpayers in Fargo and Cass County have stepped up by voting for sales taxes to pay the local share, so this isn't a case of trying to freeload on Uncle Sam. All of that is important context for the upcoming federal budget, now beginning to take shape in Washington. The administration of President Donald Trump has put forth a proposed budget that advocates cutting the Army Corps of Engineers' budget by 16 percent-a reduction that Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D- N.D., warns could put the project at risk.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., is quick to point out that President Obama's budget proposals didn't always include money for the diversion, yet congressional efforts succeeded in finding the money to pay for development of the project and to start construction on the inlet this spring. Congress has authorized the project, and it remains a high priority for the corps, a position that high-level corps officials reiterated in a recent meeting with North Dakota's congressional delegation and the mayors of Fargo and Moorhead.
In his campaign, Trump repeatedly said he wants to invest in infrastructure projects, both to provide needed public works and to create jobs. That's exactly what the diversion will do. It's also a pilot project that involves a partnership with the public and private sectors, an approach that will help to speed up the project and to keep costs down-the sort of approach, in other words, that a businessman like Trump should appreciate.
Trump has laid out a budget vision that makes sharp cuts to domestic spending to pay for big increases in military and veterans spending without raising taxes. Even some of his fellow Republicans in Congress have proclaimed the budget draft is "dead on arrival." Hoeven, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, sounds confident the budget will maintain diversion funding. We hope the senator's prediction holds, but the effort will be more difficult-and the project's fate more precarious-in having to overcome deep cuts embedded in the presidential budget recommendations.
Forum editorials represent the views of Forum management and the Editorial Board.