Congress, Clinton may force education to pay highway toll – President Bill Clinton

When is $200 billion a major problem? When it begins to crowd out spending on education, advocates say.

Last month, Congress authorized $203 billion in new federal
spending on highways and other transportation projects during the next
decade. President Bill Clinton is expected to sign the legislation,
which calls for new spending of $25 billion in 1999 alone.

Those who negotiated the package want full funding of the new
highway projects — as well as tax cuts — without jeopardizing an
expected budget surplus,

“It doesn’t leave much room for new education spending,” one advocate said.

The transportation hill is one of several recent developments that
signal potential cuts ahead for higher education, barring intensive
lobbying efforts from advocates or the Clinton administration,
advocates say. For some, these recent events surrounding the
social-services-versus-highway-pork debate send a disturbing signal.

To help pay for the transportation bill, Congress cut $8 billion
from a program important to at-risk children, the Social Services Block
Grant. The block grant should enjoy a stronger following on Capitol
Hill because it provides the type of state flexibility Republicans
usually like. In 1995 alone, states spent 15 percent of grant funds on
child development and 18 percent on education, special services, job
training, and protective services for youth.

“It’s one thing to cut the program to spend more on Head Start,” or
similar education priorities, said Wendell Primus, an analyst for the
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington, D.C.-based group
that works on behalf of the poor. “It’s another to cut the program to
pay for highways.”

Then there are the budget negotiations. The House in early June
rejected a budget plan that provided spending hikes for the budget
category with Pell Grants, Head Start, and Title I education. It also
would have authorized new school construction bonds and funds to hire
more teachers — while also attempting to accommodate some of the new
highway spending.

Instead, the House — on June 5 — approved a 1999 budget
resolution that would provide $101 billion less in domestic spending
than last year’s balanced budget agreement. Educators say about $6
billion would come from education — and all the reductions would help
fund tax cuts.

Critics also note the plan fails to factor in the $25 billion in
highway spending envisioned next year, something that may require even
deeper spending cuts. This budget is “unrealistic,” said Rep. John
Spratt (D-S.C.), ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee.
However, the resolution made it through the House by a narrow 216-204
vote.

Clinton likely would veto a 1999 spending bill with deep cuts in
education, but concerns remain that the final White House-GOP budget
package may shortchange education at a time when the government is
running a budget surplus.

“For the first time in many decades, there will be a window of
opportunity to make meaningful federal investments in education,” said
Rep. Major Owens (D-N.Y.). The Congressman called for reserving one
fourth of this money to build new schools and another fourth for other
education priorities. His plan would still leave other funds available
for Social Security and tax cuts, he said.

However, Owens fears a “closed door, smoke-filled-room deal” before
the fall election in which GOP leaders and the White House make budget
decisions with little input from others.

“A multi-billion dollar deal is going to be made,” he said. “Let’s do a deal for the children in America.”

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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