Rural Minn. has much to lose in Trump's budget plan

Tracy officials Shane Daniels, Madonna Peterson near a water treatment pond
Tracy city officials Shane Daniels and Madonna Peterson stand near a wastewater treatment pond the city will replace. The project is funded by a federal program the Trump administration wants to eliminate.
Mark Steil | MPR News

The people in rural areas who voted for President Trump in droves have much at stake in his proposed budget.

Trump's budget plan cuts a wide range of federal funding sources, including a water and sewer program that provided more than $200 million to greater Minnesota communities over the last five years.

Take the example of Tracy, Minn., where the sewage system has reached its limit — forcing economic development to a halt.

Tracy is on track to start a roughly $11 million rebuild of the sewage system within weeks. Most of the money comes from low-interest federal loans and grants the town has already secured.

But Trump's budget plan threatens to stop the project in its final stages by cutting out funding sources.

Tracy resident Rose Marie Brooks said the Trump budget is short-sighted.

"Little towns do need help," Brooks said. "They're struggling to make ends meet."

Finishing the new sewage system is critical for Tracy as it's competing for a new shrimp-production facility that could bring hundreds of jobs to the town. Fifty-eight percent of Tracy voters choose Trump in last fall's election.

The Trump budget plan would create other types of pain for rural Minnesota, too. Energy assistance, air-service programs and federal agriculture department staffing could all see cuts. The proposal doesn't affect farm subsidy payments.

Trump supporters like Keith Scheidt of Adrian, Minn., say the proposed reductions are bitter, but they're necessary to get government spending under control.

Parts of Tracy's water system are over 100 years old.
President Trump's proposed budget would eliminate a federal program that's providing much of the funding for a wastewater rebuilding project in Tracy in southwest Minnesota. Parts of the system are over 100 years old.
Mark Steil | MPR News

But Trump's budget leaves Medicare and Social Security untouched, even though the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says those programs are among the biggest drivers of the national debt.

The fate of the Trump budget cuts is anyone's guess since even Republican congressional leaders give his plan a thumbs down.

For Ruth Hubbard, executive director of the Minnesota Rural Water Association, that means there's room for negotiation.

The need for federal water and sewer assistance is especially acute in the state's smallest communities, she said, which lack a large enough tax base to fund major projects.

In the last few years, many tiny Minnesota towns have benefited from federal help.

Hubbard's confident that rural interests can educate the president on the fundamentals of water.

"It really is non-political," she said. "I don't care what side of the fence that you are on, everybody uses water and everybody expects the waste water to just go away. So, we'll be able to work with the Trump administration."

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