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Schweikert tries to slash popular roads, housing programs ahead of holidays

Schweikert tries to slash popular roads, housing programs ahead of holidays

By Camaron Stevenson

November 22, 2023

As millions make plans to travel home for Thanksgiving, one Arizona congressman returns to his district after proposing a federal budget cut that would have made it more difficult to both travel safely and secure stable housing.

During a United States House of Representatives floor debate earlier this month, US Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) proposed an aggressive solution to averting a government shutdown: cut nearly $18 billion in federal funding from the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Departments (THUD).

Taking away promised funding

Schweikert’s argument in favor of cutting 57% of discretionary spending from THUD was that both entities levy their own taxes, and the taxes they incur should be all the funding they need. But both departments created budgets with the promise that additional funding would come from Congress prior to Schweikert’s amendment.

“This is a brutal amendment,” Schweikert said on the House floor. “But 57% of this budget goes to entities that have their own tax authority.”

The Copper Courier reached out to Rep. Schweikert’s office for clarification, but did not receive a response.

Here’s how the cuts breakdown:

  • $15.4 billion for tenant-based rental assistance
  • $776 million for highway maintenance and expansion
  • $520 million for housing assistance for the elderly
  • $499 million for Amtrak maintenance and expansion
  • $223 million for public transit repairs and expansion
  • $148 million for highway traffic safety inspection and enforcement
  • $34.2 million for homeownership grants for low-income households

“House Republicans had an opportunity to engage in a productive, bipartisan appropriations process,” the White House said in a statement. “But instead are wasting time with partisan bills that cut domestic spending.”

A bipartisan rejection

Schweikert’s proposal, an amendment to a bill written in order to avoid a government shutdown, failed to pass, with 85 Republicans joining Democrats in voting against the measure.

Andrei Cherny, former CEO of sustainability-centered finance company Aspiration who is one of a handful of Democrats running to unseat Schweikert, said that the issues Schweikert is voting against are precisely what voters in the district are supportive of.

“You can’t have a conversation for more than a couple of minutes before people start talking about these basic quality of life issues,” Cherny said. “When you think about the kinds of cuts that [Schweikert] proposed to housing, to transportation, after having voted against the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill… the best indication to how out of touch he is, is that a majority of Republicans voted against the amendment he introduced.”

Schweikert’s support shrinking

While Schweikert has been in a relatively safe position during his 12-year tenure in the House, Democratic opponents have come increasingly closer to ousting him in recent years. His vote margin has shrunk from his height of popularity in 2014—where he enjoyed a 30-point lead—to 2022, where he bested his Democratic opponent Jevin Hodge by less than one percent of the vote.

The shift from a firmly Republican constituency to a more moderate voter base can be partially attributed to Congressional redistricting, which has divided his district more evenly between Democrats and Republicans. But Democrats running against Schweikert say it has just as much to do with the incumbent as it does the constituents.

“It’s embarrassing,” said Marlene Galán-Woods, also running as a Democrat against Schweikert. “My district would like nice roads to drive on—that don’t have big potholes in them—tunnels that aren’t falling apart, bridges that aren’t falling apart. And I know my district cares about the elderly, and the most vulnerable.”

Opponents point to abortion, voting rights

Galán-Woods, a former Republican who switched parties as conservatives continued to restrict abortion rights across the country, told The Copper Courier that Schweikert’s proposal to cut housing and transit funding is emblematic of how out of touch he is with the people he represents on a number of issues.

“A woman’s right to choose—power over her own body, he would like to strip away those rights,” Galán-Woods said. “Our democracy is in danger. These are people who would like to make sure that not every American has equal and safe access to the ballot box.”

On abortion, an issue very present in the minds of voters in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District, Schwiekert has been vocal in his opposition. He praised the United States Supreme Court when they voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, and in 2017 voted to restrict federal funds from being used to cover the cost of abortion services.

State supports funding opposed by Schweikert

The proposed cuts to transit and housing come at a time when Arizona is making historic investments into both sectors. Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs secured more than $150 million in the state budget for the Housing Trust Fund, which provides aid for rent and utility assistance programs, eviction prevention, and funding to build new shelters and affordable housing.

State Republicans also secured $89 million in the state budget to expand a stretch of Interstate 10 between the Valley and Casa Grande, a sign that investments into road infrastructure and safety is a priority for both Republicans and Democrats. This is only a small portion of highway funding in Arizona, however, as 94% of costs for most transportation projects are paid for by federal funds.

Had the amendment from Schweikert passed, this funding would have been severely cut, and it would potentially put state and local infrastructure projects at risk. The Copper Courier reached out to both the Arizona Department of Housing and the Arizona Department of Transportation for insights as to how much these cuts would impact the state, but both departments declined to comment on proposed legislation.

But for Democrats who wish to see next year be Schweikert’s last in Congress,

“It just shows how incredibly out of touch he is with the community, and how much he’s failing at doing the basic part of the job of being a representative,” Cherny said. “Which is actually to represent, and to work for us, and to deliver for us.”

 

Author

  • Camaron Stevenson

    Camaron is the Founding Editor and Chief Political Correspondent for The Copper Courier, and has worked as a journalist in Phoenix for over a decade. He also teaches multimedia journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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