On Trump budget cuts for local governments in TN (where fed grants average $2,000 per person)

Tennessee is cited as an example of the negative impact of President Trump’s budget-cutting plans on state and local governments in a Politico story. Former Republican state Sen. Micheal Williams, now mayor of Union County and a self-described fiscal conservative, says he was stunned when he read the proposal.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God,’” Williams said. “I don’t know if they really thought this through.”

Williams is mayor of Union County, which never fully recovered from the loss of its textile industry when it shifted to Mexico after NAFTA. When Trump promised to bring back manufacturing jobs, voters there lined up behind him.

But last week when Trump released his budget, the message they got from the president was that they were on their own.

The bulk of Union County’s $42.8 million budget is funded by property taxes. With a population of less than 20,000 and a median income of $37,000, there’s no way to raise money for big projects. Some residents still rely on dial-up internet, and a rural elementary school needs a $500,000 upgrade to its water and septic system.

“Sometimes the public paints it with a broad brush, ‘Oh they’re wasting money,’” Williams said. “Well, even if we cleaned up everything, we still couldn’t afford the infrastructure for broadband.”

Williams has applied to the Appalachian Regional Commission for a grant to help the school. The commission and a handful of others like it combine federal dollars with state, local and private money to boost economic development and job growth in the poorest regions of the country. All these commissions would be eliminated under the Trump plan.

Of $3.5 trillion in federal outlays in 2014, nearly $589 billion was in the form of grants directly to states, localities, individuals and nonprofits, according to research from Pew Charitable Trusts. In Tennessee, that added up to almost $2,000 per person.

“The federal budget is not just a national story, it really is a state-by-state story,” said Anne Stauffer, director of Pew’s Fiscal Federalism program. “When people think about the federal budget they don’t connect it to their lives or the services they get from their state or their city.”

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Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.
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