WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, in an Oval Office interview on Wednesday, said his administration has “set aside” money for the Gateway Tunnel project, but did not commit to when his administration would release federal dollars for the massive railway project.
The president, in a wide-ranging interview with Newsday and other local news outlets from across the United States, also said he’d be “open to talking about” changes to the State and Local Tax [SALT] deduction that was capped at $10,000 under his 2017 tax plan. Several New York lawmakers including Reps. Pete King (R-Seaford), Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) have proposed legislation to repeal the cap.
Asked by Newsday about the status of the Gateway Tunnel project, Trump said: "We have the money set aside but … we haven’t decided to use it yet. I'm speaking to the governor [Andrew M. Cuomo]. I'm speaking with various senators, and we'll see what happens."
The new Gateway Tunnel rail connection between New York and New Jersey was initially slated to receive $11 billion in federal funding as part of a cost-sharing agreement with New York and New Jersey made under the Obama administration, but Trump reneged on that deal last year, taking the money off the table as part of a broader federal spending bill.
On Wednesday, Trump said “I’m open-minded” about the project that Cuomo, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and New Jersey officials have been pressing him to fund at the levels agreed to by the Obama administration.
The president dismissed reports claiming he is withholding funding as leverage to garner support from Schumer and congressional Democrats for his $5.7 billion southern border wall request.
"We have to see what they're doing. It's a very expensive project, very expensive, so we have to see what they're doing, it's got to be approved by us,” Trump said.
Cuomo met with Trump last November to urge the president to reverse his position and approve funding.
Asked about Trump’s latest remarks, a Cuomo spokesman pointed to a statement issued by the governor on Tuesday, after the Gateway Program Development Corporation — a nonprofit agency overseeing the project — announced the launch of an online portal for businesses seeking to bid for work on the project.
"A new passenger rail tunnel across the Hudson is vital to the future of our region and our nation,” Cuomo said. “As I told the president at the White House in November, this is the most urgent infrastructure project in the nation and it is a project that is ready to go once he greenlights the federal share of funding.”
Asked about the president’s remarks, Schumer in a statement said: “The aging and Sandy-damaged Hudson River tunnels are crumbling and must be rebuilt ASAP. Every day of delay increases the cost of the project and the risk that the tunnels will fail and cause transit Armageddon that will severely impact LIRR and crush our regional economy. The president and federal DOT need to stop blocking this vital project and instead immediately finalize the Environmental Impact Study and recommit to funding their 50% of the project — because New York and New Jersey have already agreed to fund their share.”
Trump said "some people from New York" have been speaking to him about changing the new SALT deduction limit, but he declined to answer when asked who specifically had been pressing him on the subject. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have argued that capping the deductions at $10,000 disproportionately impacts middle class homeowners from states with high property taxes.
Trump said any changes to SALT "would have to be started by Dems in the House. I'd be open to talking about it. There are some people talking to me about this. I'm open to thinking about that."