U.S. budget proposes allowing new toll roads, higher airline security fees

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration wants to allow states to expand the use of tolling on interstate highways while sharply cutting grants for transit projects and raising airline passenger security fees, according to the White House budget released on Tuesday.

The White House Fiscal Year 2018 budget is displayed at the House Budget Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

The overall budget proposal is $76 billion, which the administration said is about the same as for 2016. About $60 billion of that is annual “mandatory spending,” including road repairs paid through gas tax collections.

The Transportation Department’s “discretionary” budget is being cut by 12.7 percent, or $2.4 billion to $16.2 billion.

The administration proposes $200 billion in government funding over 10 years as part of a goal of getting $1 trillion in public and private infrastructure spending.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told reporters local communities know best what projects they need.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer said the budget cuts $206 billion in infrastructure spending across several Cabinet departments, including $96 billion in planned highway trust fund spending.

Schumer said the administration would cut funds from states and cities “to pay wealthy hedge funds and Wall Street to build more toll roads.”

Chao said Schumer has called for $1 trillion in direct government funding, which is “not very realistic” and would add to the deficit.

Administration officials said they expect that by 2022 there will be a new mechanism to make up for lost revenue. The budget projects a $15 billion reduction in funding in 2023 and does not include any funding to make up for that.

Congress has been adding tens of billions of dollars annually to pay for crumbling roads because gas tax revenue is not keeping up with repair needs.

The administration also proposes to allow for private companies to construct and operate highway rest stops. It also wants to raise the airline passenger security fee by $1 to $6.60 per one-way trip, which would generate $530 million for the Transportation Safety Administration.

The budget would end subsidies for Amtrak to operate long-distance train service, cutting $630 million of the $1.4 billion in annual government support for passenger rail service.

The Trump budget would eliminate the Obama administration’s TIGER grant program, saving $5 billion over 10 years in the program that has funded transit projects. It also would cut $18 billion out of another government transit grant program called New Starts.

The administration also proposes to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system, which budget documents suggest would boost the budget deficit by about $45 billion over 10 years.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Bill Trott