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Arkansas Congressional delegation pans 2015 Obama budget plan

President Barack Obama unveiled Tuesday (March 4) his 2015 budget proposal he says will cut deficits, put Americans to work, promote national security and will “redesign high schools to help students succeed in today’s economy.” The budget plan drew criticism from Arkansas’ Congressional delegation, including from U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, Arkansas’ lone Democrat in the delegation.

The plan, which seeks to set the federal budget beginning Oct. 1, shows $3.901 trillion in spending, and an estimated $3.337 trillion in revenue. The result is a $564 billion budget deficit, which is less than the projected $649 billion deficit for fiscal year 2014. According to the Obama budget, the annual deficits will decline to $531 billion, $458 billion and $413 billion for fiscal years 2016, 2017 and 2018, respectively.

“Under the President’s leadership, the deficit has been cut in half as a share of the economy, the largest four-year deficit reduction since the demobilization from World War II,” noted a White House statement accompanying the budget proposal. “While making investments to grow the economy and expand opportunity, the Budget continues this progress, bringing deficits down as a share of the economy to 1.6 percent by 2024. It also stabilizes debt as a share of the economy by 2015 and puts it on a declining path after that.”

MANUFACTURING, ENERGY INVESTMENTS
Other budget proposals highlighted by the Obama White House included:
• “Enhance our national security by accelerating modernization of key weapons systems, accelerate progress in restoring military readiness degraded by sequestration, support nuclear R&D and infrastructure, and invests in defense facilities and construction across the country.”

• "Support high-quality early learning opportunities across the country, prepare teachers to take advantage of broadband technology in the classroom, invest in closing the achievement gap, and redesign high schools to help students succeed in today’s economy.”

• “Transforms regions across the country into global epicenters of advanced manufacturing by supporting the President’s goal of creating 45 manufacturing innovation institutes over 10 years, building on the four institutes already launched and the five additional institutes that will be launched 2014.”

• “Advances the President’s ‘all-of-the-above’ strategy on energy by investing in the safe and responsible production of natural gas; promoting cleaner-burning fossil fuel technology such as natural gas with carbon capture; supporting the development of clean energy alternatives; advancing energy efficiency in our cars, trucks, homes, and buildings; expanding and making permanent the tax credit for renewable energy production; and eliminating $4 billion per year in taxpayer subsidies to the oil, gas, and other fuel producers."

The Obama budget also includes $302 billion for a four-year surface transportation reauthorization proposal to “support infrastructure projects and create jobs while improving America’s roads, bridges, transit systems, and railways.” The transportation budget plan includes a “fix-it-first” effort to support repair needs of existing transportation assets. The White House said the transportation budget would be supported “with transition revenue from business tax reform that simplifies the tax code and promotes economic growth.”

ARKANSAS RESPONSE
Pryor, who is in a tight re-election race with U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, said the President’s budget was “lopsided” in terms of tax increases and spending cuts.

“While I appreciate that the President finally heard my concerns about his proposed cuts to Social Security, I’m frustrated to see more of the same in his budget blueprint. Once again, we see lopsided tax increases, as well as cuts to the Corps of Engineers, the Small Business Administration, and drinking water improvement programs — to name a few,” noted a statement from Pryor’s Congressional office to The City Wire. “We should responsibly cut our spending by making smart cuts to government programs, eliminating inefficiencies, and working together to implement policies that will secure our nation’s economic future. That being said, I’ll continue to look for areas of common ground as more details are released in the weeks to come.”

U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said Obama’s budget is “reckless” and is meant to appeal to the President’s political base.

“If President Obama’s budget proposal was enacted, it would turn the clock back on the little progress we have made toward reining in Washington’s reckless spending. It is a step backward that we cannot afford to take. An honest discussion on our spending priorities and ideas to get our economy moving again is well overdue and a budget proposal to fit that bill would have been welcome. However, instead of engaging, the President has opted to appeal to his political base,” Boozman said in a statement.

Boozman’s office said the Obama budget would increase spending 63% from present levels and add $8.3 trillion to the national debt over the next 10 years.

Cotton also criticized the proposed budget.

“Today, President Obama presented his most unserious budget to date, continuing to place an immoral burden on the backs of future generations with more out-of-control spending that will only add to our national debt. Under the President¹s proposal Arkansans would see their taxes go up and their savings go down, proving once again that his policies are wrong for our state and wrong for our country."

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, a member of the powerful U.S. House Appropriations Committee, said the budget simply “calls for more spending and more taxes.”

“As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I look forward to working with my colleagues to evaluate the President’s budget line-by-line and ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly,” Womack noted in his statement.

With Republicans in charge of the U.S. House, it is unlikely that Obama’s budget will survive Congressional action intact.

OPPOSITION FROM TRUCKERS
The American Trucking Associations, which represents several prominent Arkansas-based trucking companies, said the Obama budget “fails to recognize the realities of freight and passenger transportation” and “offers nothing in the way of long-term stability for transportation funding.”

The ATA was specifically critical of the President’s plan to spend more money on intercity rail connections and the plan to shift highway and transportation funding away from user-related fees and taxes.

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“By mid-January, this (trucking) industry moved as much freight as the railroads will move all year, and this budget proposes to re-direct funds from road and bridge projects that would improve capacity and ease bottlenecks to underwrite projects for an industry that continually crows about how self-sufficient it is,” ATA President Bill Graves said in a statement.

According to the ATA, freight railroads moved 14.7% of all domestic freight and the trucking industry moved 68.5%.

“Using the proceeds from corporate tax reform, while creative, does little to address the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund or to uphold the principle of users paying for the services they get, in this case, the federal fuel tax, which has not been adjusted in more than two decades to account for inflation and improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency,” noted ATA Chairman Phil Byrd, who is also president of Bulldog Hiway Express.

Link here for summary tables of the budget presented Tuesday.

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