Three days after President Donald Trump's administration announced plans to propose deep cuts in federal discretionary spending, U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky urged members of the House Budget Committee to leave funding in place for grant programs that would pay half the cost of the South Shore Line's West Lake Corridor and Double Track NWI projects.
In testimony offered Tuesday, Visclosky acknowledged the difficulty in balancing "responsible fiscal policies with the need to make investments to support a strong economy.
"This task is made no less difficult by the announcement this week that the President will be submitting a budget request that proposes a $54 billion cut to domestic programs," Visclosky said.
The South Shore will rely on grants of more than $300 million for the West Lake project and about $145 million for the Double Track project.
With favorable recommendations from the Federal Transit Administration later this year, the funding would be included in the 2019 federal budget.
In his testimony, Visclosky cited statistics showing rising demand for public transportation nationally, increasing property values near train stations along with new development that provides a significant return on investment.
He noted Lake County's population decline in recent years, and compared it to growth in the Illinois suburbs.
"Part of the reason for this discrepancy is that young people want to be a part of the economic vibrancy of Chicago, but do not want to drive the commute from Northwest Indiana," Visclosky said. "Investing in the South Shore Rail Line will connect my constituents to Chicago’s $500 billion economy and nearly four million jobs."
Sixteen local governments have pledged tax revenue to the West Lake project, he said, and the state committed funds when Vice President Mike Pence was governor.
"But the successful extension and recapitalization of the South Shore Rail Line and associated economic benefits in Northwest Indiana, along with other projects in communities throughout our country, depend on the availability of strong federal funding levels to support transit projects," Visclosky said.
The Trump administration is expected to provide more details of its proposed budget later this month.