Congressional House Republicans released two separate spending bills detailing proposals that would impact the Gateway Project and the US-Mexico border wall, on Monday and Tuesday respectively. The House Appropriations Committee unveiled its $56.5 billion Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development bill that budgets $900 million to the Gateway Program, a project many consider critical to the nation's transportation infrastructure. The Committee's $44.3 billion Homeland Security bill allocates $1.6 billion to construct the border wall. In a win for the $24 billion Gateway Program, the spending bill includes $328 million for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor tracks, grants for rail repairs, and direct funding for new Hudson River rail tunnels and the Portal Bridge. (More details on the multifaceted program can be found here.) President Donald Trump’s administration had pulled out of the Gateway Program Development Corporation a week ago, casting doubt on the administration's support. According to Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee Rodney Frelinghuysen, the Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston provides $3 billion to the U.S. economy, making the Gateway Program a priority. "Safe and reliable passenger rail travel through New Jersey and New York City is essential to that economic productivity," he said in a statement reported by NJ.com. But one of Trump’s key promises during his presidential campaign—building the much debated and controversial border wall separating the U.S and Mexico—is also one step closer to fruition. The $1.6 billion earmarked for the wall fully meets the White House request for construction funds, according to the committee. “Globalization, cyber-security, and terrorism are changing our way of life and we need to change with it," Frelinghuysen said in a press release. “The bill also provides the necessary funding for critical technology and physical barriers to secure our borders.” The $1.6 billion earmark is also likely to set up a government shutdown when the bill makes it way to the Senate, where Democrats are sure to object to any kind of wall funding. Funding for both projects is not yet guaranteed. Both bills will have to pass the full House and get approval from the Senate, before getting signed into law by President Trump.
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Trump’s stake in largest federally subsidized housing complex raises questions for conflict of interest
President Donald Trump’s stake in the nation’s largest federally subsidized housing complex—Starrett City in Brooklyn, New York—has raised questions from two congressional Democrats about a potential conflict of interest, as first reported by the New York Times. Trump has a four percent ownership in the housing complex, which offers 3,500 lower and middle-income apartments subsidized through a rental assistance program. The deteriorating complex has generated Trump at least $5 million of income between January 2016 and April 15, 2017, as reported in The Washington Post. The federal government has paid more than $490 million in the complex’s rent subsidies since May 2013, with nearly $38 million since Trump took office. In a letter sent on Friday by Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland and Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the lawmakers expressed their concern that Trump could increase his profits through his involvement with the complex, despite leading the federal government (which operates the subsidies through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, known as HUD). The letter was addressed to HUD Secretary Ben Carson and those managing Trump's trust of business assets (namely, Donald Trump Jr. and Allen H. Weisselberg of The Trump Organization); it was also sent to Representative Trey Gowdy of The House Oversight Committee. “Many real estate companies receive government subsidies to support affordable housing, but unique conflicts exist with regard to Starrett City because the president is on both sides of the negotiations,” the letter read in the Times. “He oversees the government entity providing taxpayer funds and he pockets some of that money himself.” The letter also raised issues with Trump’s proposed budget cut to federal housing programs. The administration has proposed reducing HUD's budget by $7 billion, however, the project-based rental assistance program—which Starrett City falls under—is one of the few programs that will be spared major cuts to funding. Trump’s recent nominee to lead the HUD’s New York region, Lynne Patton, an event planner with no experience in housing, has also been a source of controversy. Her appointment would mean that she would be directly involved in policies related to Starrett City. “We have serious concerns that her self-described loyalty to the president and his family could influence HUD’s discretion on issues related to Starrett City,” Cummings and Jeffries said in the letter.
Despite President Donald Trump’s repeated commitment to building new infrastructure, the U.S Department of Transportation (DOT) has withdrawn its cooperation from a massive $24 billion transportation project between New York and New Jersey, as reported by New York Daily News. The Gateway Program Development Corporation planned to bring a new rail bridge, Portal North, to Newark as well as a new tunnel under the Hudson River that was meant to replace the existing, crumbling tunnel that suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Sandy. The program also looked to expand Penn Station and build new bridges to better connect Newark, New Jersey, and New York City. However, the DOT notified the Gateway’s board of trustees of their withdrawal last Friday. "It is not DOT’s standard practice to serve in such a capacity on other local transportation projects," read the letter to the Gateway board of trustees, which also counts Amtrak and board members from the New York and New Jersey Port Authority as members. Plans to build the new tunnel have been in the works since the Obama administration, where a deal was struck so that New York and New Jersey officials would take on half of the costs while the federal government and Amtrak would undertake the other half. Trump had also included the Gateway program in his list of "Emergency & National Security Projects," a list of about 50 national infrastructure projects that was first published in January by the Kansas City Star. The Gateway project has been billed as one of the largest regional transit projects in the Northeast, one that would address the growing number of commuters from New Jersey as well as the region’s deteriorating infrastructure. The current two-tube tunnel linking New Jersey and Penn Station shuttle more than 200,000 riders daily. If one tube fails before new tunnels are built, capacity could be reduced by 75 percent, according to Amtrak. The DOT clarified their withdrawal, saying that “the decision underscores the department’s commitment to ensuring there is no appearance of prejudice or partiality in favor of these projects ahead of hundreds of other projects nationwide,” in a statement to the Wall Street Journal.
For this weekend, from Friday to Sunday, June 16 to 18, 2017, the Trump Presidential Twitter Library will be open to the public at 3 W 57th St. in Midtown Manhattan. The pop-up space features a stage for comedians, as well as a series of curated installations that put on view the current president's, er, peculiar Twitter habit. The project comes from Comedy Central and the Daily Show with Trevor Noah. The installations feature tweets arranged by theme, including a section of Birther tweets about Obama being from Kenya, titled "Concern for the Integrity of the American Presidency," and "Trumpstradamus: Trump tweets predicting the future," where Trump's terrible predictions remind us how often he is wrong. Others include his contradictory tweets on topics such as golf outings, Syria, and post-election protests. https://www.instagram.com/p/BVYYfa4lYdw/ https://www.instagram.com/p/BVYcePujIhh/
On President Donald Trump’s birthday, New York City artists held performances inside Trump Tower’s not-so-secret public gardens to issue a call-to-arms against the White House's proposed budget cuts to arts funding. The performances, which took place earlier today, are part of a rising trend where activists now use Trump Tower’s public gardens as spaces for political activism. The gardens and atriums inside Trump Tower were a part of Trump’s 1979 agreement with the city, which led to the creation of 15,000 square feet worth of public space in exchange for a zoning variance to build an additional 20 stories. The agreement also stipulated that these privately-owned public spaces (POPS) be accessible to the public from 8 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily. “Today in an act of resistance, we take back what is rightfully ours, the public space inside Trump Tower, and use the power of art to protest this administration,” said New York City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer, who is also chair of the committee on cultural affairs. “There is an assault on the arts, culture, and thinking in this country right now.” Trump’s budget proposes eliminating federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. “We gather as artists and citizens to celebrate our country's commitment to the freedom of expression and the exchange of ideas between all people,” said Lucy Sexton, an artist at the event. Performers used art as a way to cover a wide range of subjects that have been topics of hot conversation in Trump’s administration, including climate change and Russia. Trump himself was also a topic of interest, in performances like Brick x Brick, where participants wore brick-patterned jumpsuits adorned with statements of misogynistic violence made by Trump. The performance was a way to “demonstrate disdain to Trump’s policies,” according to Caterina Bartha, the event’s curator, adding that it was “a gift to New Yorkers who attended the free performance and a call to people across the country to fight to save the arts from Trump’s axe.”
Speaking at the U.S. Department of Transportation, President Donald Trump has iterated his eagerness to swiftly implement a $1 trillion infrastructure plan. "One of the biggest obstacles to creating this new and desperately-needed infrastructure—and that is the painfully slow, costly and time-consuming process for getting permits and approvals to build," he said at the department last week. Trump wants the speed up the approval process of improving highways are other U.S. infrastructure. According to the World Economic Forum's Competitiveness Report for 2015-2016, the U.S. ranks 11th globally for infrastructure, yet is third overall for economic competitiveness. The report also stated that the of "most problematic factors for doing business" in the U.S., inadequate supply of infrastructure was the source of 5.2 percent of the problems. Over the course of a decade, The White House proposes spending $200 billion of federal money as part of the trillion-dollar public-private partnership. The President also said how the White House is pressing on with "massive permit reform," forming a new council that will supposedly streamline and eliminate red tape when dealing with infrastructure projects. "This Council will also improve transparency by creating a new online dashboard allowing everyone to easily track major projects through every stage of the approval process," Trump said, as reported by Reuters. He continued, adding that any federal agency that "consistently delays projects by missing deadlines will face tough, new penalties. We will hold the bureaucracy accountable." Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is also reaching out the public for comment and advice for other changes the Trump administration can make to reduce delays in infrastructure approval. On that note, Trump, according to Reuters, cited the infrastructure of old and reminded everyone of his taste for Keynesian-style economics. It took "four years to build the Golden Gate Bridge and five years to build the Hoover Dam—but today it can take 10 years just to get the approvals and permits needed to build a major infrastructure project," he lambasted. The President, meanwhile, displayed his distaste for the "16 different approvals involving ten different federal agencies being governed by 26 different statutes," needed when applying for infrastructure permits.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has pledged 15 million dollars to the United Nations (UN) to combat climate change, filling the gap left by President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord. The funds will support the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretariat, "including its work to help countries implement their commitments under the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change," Bloomberg Philanthropies said in a statement. "Americans are not walking away from the Paris Climate Agreement; just the opposite—we are forging ahead," Michael Bloomberg said. Bloomberg’s sentiment is echoed by The United States Conference of Mayors, who have vowed to continue their fight at the local level despite the shenanigans in Washington. “The U.S. Conference of Mayors is a strong proponent of the need to address climate change and we support the Paris agreement, which positions the world's nations, including the United States, to be energy independent, self-reliant, and resilient,” stated Phoenix, Arizona Mayor Greg Stanton who is also Chair of the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) Environment Committee. “A thriving economy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are compatible by focusing on new technology, investing in renewable fuel sources, and increasing our energy efficiency,” the group said in a statement. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio issued the following: “President Trump can turn his back on the world, but the world cannot ignore the very real threat of climate change. This decision is an immoral assault on the public health, safety and security of everyone on this planet. New Yorkers are already experiencing hotter summers, more powerful storms and rising seas, which disproportionately affect already vulnerable communities. On behalf of the people of New York City, and alongside mayors across the country, I am committing to honor the goals of the Paris agreement with an Executive Order in the coming days, so our city can remain a home for generations to come.” USCM Energy Chair New Bedford (MA) Mayor Jon Mitchell added: "The solutions to climate change present economic opportunities in clean energy, efficient technology, and low-carbon products and services, all of which can create jobs in the United States. U.S. mayors have committed their cities to address climate change and will continue to do so."
One Journal Square, a mixed-use development designed by global architecture firm Woods Bagot, has been put under the microscope as the project’s developer, Kushner Companies, seeks funding through the controversial EB-5 investor visa program. The Jersey City development has been hit with turmoil recently, with its main tenant, WeWork, backing out and taking several million dollars of tax breaks with them, as well as potentially losing a major chunk of cash ($30.4 million in city bonds, to be precise) and a 30-year tax abatement to boot, according to Bloomberg News. Kushner Companies, like many developers, has turned to Chinese investors to garner funds, specifically $150 million of the $1 billion budget, utilizing the EB-5 investor visa program. The EB-5 program, more formally known as the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program, was created by the Immigration Act of 1990 as a way to spur investment into rural communities and communities struggling with high unemployment rates. The gist is that a foreign investor can invest a minimum of $500,000 to $1 million in a business that will employ at least ten American workers, and, in exchange, they will receive a U.S. visa, which can turn into permanent residency for the investor and their family. The program was developed to spur growth in downtrodden communities, however, the program has become a loophole for developers to fund luxury projects, claiming nearby neighborhoods struggling with unemployment in order to qualify their luxury developments for the program. Then all they have to do is sell visas to wealthy foreigners in exchange for ‘cheap money.’ The number of visas issued through the EB-5 program has increased dramatically in recent years, from a meager 64 visas in 2003 to nearly 9,000 visas issued in 2015, according to The New York Times. Of those 9,000, approximately 80 percent were to Chinese investors, according to The Washington Post. Despite the increase in growth, a report by the Government Accountability Office in 2015 suggests the program is at high risk for fraud and has no reliable means of verifying sources of funds (like that one time invested funds were linked to several Chinese brothels). Although the EB-5 program itself is no stranger to scandals (for example, a member of Iranian intelligence utilized the program to obtain a visa), there is no doubt that much of this particular scandal comes from the company in question’s ties to a particular senior adviser to the White House (that would be Jared Kushner, husband to Ivanka Trump and former chief executive of Kushner Companies). Only one day before Kushner’s sister spoke to investors in Beijing about One Journal Square, saying the project “means a lot to me and my entire family,” President Trump signed an extension to the EB-5 program as part of his Omnibus bill, raising many eyebrows. Although there is no evidence that Kushner or his sister have done anything illegal or in direct violation of any ethics codes, the controversy surrounding One Journal Square has drawn a lot of attention to the conflict-of-interest concerns floating around President Trump’s White House, as well as the ongoing debate about the future of the EB-5 program and what that means for luxury developers. Despite the scandal and struggle to find funds, however, One Journal Square is still set to begin construction early next year. Stay tuned.
President Donald Trump’s new $4.1 trillion budget, released on Tuesday, May 23, calls for the defunding of several domestic federal agencies, including the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) and National Endowment of Humanities (NEH), as well as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The budget, called “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” redirects these funds to increased military spending, as well as more robust border security systems and the initial construction costs for U.S.-Mexico border wall (currently estimated at $1.6 million). Although the budget still has to be approved by Congress, and will definitely face opposition there, the NEA and NEH are looking ahead to respond to the potential severe reductions to both agencies. As of 2016, the NEA’s budget of $147 million only constituted .004 percent of the federal budget. The NEA uses that money to fund thousands of nonprofits, arts initiatives, and research that supports the arts, especially with regard to education—often its budget is used to directly help states fund their art programs. The NEH offers grants that are awarded to museums, archives, libraries, etc. Both agencies were established in 1965 and have aided the arts and humanities education for the American public. The NEA and NEH have submitted requests for 2018 that detail the costs required to shut down; you can find the report in full here. The report estimates that the combined cost to close down the agencies will be $71 million, nearly 25 percent of the total annual budget of $300 million. These funds would be used to support the employees working for the agencies, as well as real estate, equipment, contracts, grant commitments, and management. The NEA currently has a staff of 155 but would have to cut this amount in half by March 2018. The NEH’s chairman, William Adams, resigned Monday and acting chair Margaret Plympton will dismantle the agency. The Architect's Newspaper reached out to the NEA asking about what this means for the NEA and received the following statement:
The NEA is fully funded in FY 2017 and continues to make FY 2017 grant awards and honor all obligated grant funds made to date. The President’s FY 2018 budget proposes the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, with a request for $29 million intended to be used for the orderly shutdown of the agency. This budget request is a first step in a very long budget process. We continue to accept grant applications for FY 2018 at our usual deadlines and will continue to operate as usual until a new budget is enacted by Congress.If you would like to oppose these budget cuts in Congress, please contact your local senator and ask them to save the NEA and NEH. Guidelines for this outreach can be found here. The NEA also provided these documents on its Appropriations Request For Fiscal Year 2018 and the Appropriations Process (the budget is currently at step one of thirteen).
This is really happening. Late last year Chicago-based New World Design proposed Flying Pigs on Parade: A Chicago River Folly, an installation of four golden flying pigs directly in front of the Trump sign on the Trump International Hotel and Tower. After receiving permission from Roger Waters, co-founder, bassist, and lead songwriter of Pink Floyd, New World Design will reproduce the same pig used for the iconic Pink Floyd photo shoot over Battersea Park Power Station, London, for the Animals album cover. This time the pigs will be gold. The helium-filled balloons will then be floated, single file, from a construction barge in the Chicago River at just such a height to obscure the 20-foot-by-141-foot Trump sign. The single day installation is expected to be launched in late August or early September. The pigs hold multiple meanings and make a number of pop culture references, most clearly to the 1977 Pink Floyd album cover and George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Other references include Trump’s alleged “Miss Piggy” comment directed at a former Miss Universe and the gold so often used in Trump’s interior design. "The design follows meticulous rationale in imparting layers of meaning but ultimately allows for interpretation by individual viewers," said Jeffrey Roberts, partner at New World Design. The Trump Tower has become a lightning rod for protest since the election. The base of the tower has been the site of multiple peaceful demonstrations, and the Honorary Trump Plaza sign, which marked Wabash Avenue in front of the tower, was removed some months ago. On any given day, tourists can be seen across the river taking selfies of themselves giving the building the middle finger. As reported by the Chicago Tribune, another consequence of Trump’s lack of popularity in Chicago has been slowed condo sales. Currently, over 50 condos in the Tower are on the market. That is nearly three times that of any similar tower in the city. “We are a small group of designers creating visual commentary on the inflammatory nature of our current political environment. We are not radicals. We see design as our path to building and reinforcing a community of more rational, optimistic and inclusive minds,” said Roberts. The pigs and the protests are all happening in a public way, peacefully. So it would seem that the targeting of the tower by scornful Chicagoans is not going to stop anytime soon. Not even when pigs fly.
To those architects itching to build President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall: Maybe try again in September. According to preliminary reports, a forthcoming $1 trillion congressional budget deal to fund the continued operation of the federal government will strike a blow to several of the President’s key campaign promises, leaving controversial proposals like funding a border wall between the United States and Mexico, a long-touted $1 trillion infrastructure package, and the threatened de-funding of so-called “sanctuary cities” unfulfilled. Instead, the bill includes roughly $1.5 billion in new border security spending earmarked mostly for repairs and technological upgrades of existing elements, among other items. That amount is far less than the roughly $70 billion needed, according to a recent report by Democratic staff of the U.S. Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. The report, released last week in anticipation of this week’s contentious funding negotiations, is not kind to the wall effort and cites that the review process for proposals submitted in late March is already behind schedule. AZ Central reports that the estimated $70 billion would cover only the construction costs and does not include the cost of land acquisition along the border necessary in order to build the wall or the cost of maintenance for the structure once—really, if— it is built. The reported $1 trillion infrastructure spending bill is another short-term casualty of budgetary negotiations. The Hill reports that congressional leaders had originally planned to fund new infrastructure spending by imposing a reduced tax on companies that repatriate earnings currently held overseas back to the United States. The solution was thought to have bipartisan support, but those efforts seem to be falling apart: A recently-issued one-page tax reform outline presented by the President did not specify how the money would be spent and congressional Republicans fear Democratic support for the bill would falter due to grassroots political pressure aimed at stalling the President’s agenda. The forthcoming budget agreement, however, has maintained a certain amount of funding for mass transit initiatives in Democratic-leaning states, including $100 million of the requested $650 million needed to modernize and electrify California’s Caltrain network. The proposal also fulfills funding promises for two extensions of Los Angeles’s Purple Line subway extension, improvements for New York City’s L Train, and a new light rail extension in Denver, Colorado. Congressional leaders must pass their proposed spending bill by May 5th in order to avert a government shutdown. Budget negotiations will ramp back up again over the summer in advance of the start of the new fiscal year on September 6, 2017.
[3/29/2017 — UPDATE: Anbang backs out of negotiations to redevelop 666 Fifth via The Real Deal] Plans to convert the existing building at 666 Fifth Avenue, a long-idled development project owned by Kushner Companies and Vornado Realty Trust, might yet see the light of day as foreign investors indicate their interest in financing the tower. Kushner Companies was led by son-in-law to President Donald Trump and former CEO Jared Kushner until mid-January when he relinquished his control over the company and formally divested his stake in 666 Fifth Avenue. Though some have questioned the significance of these measures to sever himself from the project, Kushner will purportedly no longer have a formal role as it moves forward and will recuse himself if any conflict-of-interest should arise. Yet, Kushner’s precarious web of financial entanglements could potentially haunt him. Shortly before his departure from his family's business, Kushner negotiated investment talks with Anbang Insurance Group, a Chinese company shrouded by opaque ownership and known associations with the Chinese state. In a report by 6sqft, sources say that Anbang has been involved in “advanced talks to provide as much as half of the $2.5 billion in equity for the planned redevelopment.” Though the company has denied it is a stakeholder in the 666 Fifth Avenue project, the deal seems to support its growing portfolio of real estate investments in New York City as they are also the owners of nearby Waldorf Astoria Hotel. The building will require a substantial redesign of the existing structural core to accommodate an additional 40 stories, a task to be resolved by London-based Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) which recently circulated a rendering of the ambitious 1,400-foot-tall tower. ZHA has been signed up for the project since 2015 and later this year will wrap construction on its first project in New York City, a residential building adjacent to the High Line. If all goes as intended, demolition will begin in 2019 with a desired completion by 2025.