Economic Stimulus, Transit Funding

Stimulus Update: Thoroughly Unstimulating

UPDATE: Preliminary word indicates that Senator Boxer’s $50 billion push for highways did not pass.

UPDATE: The two Bond amendments (see below), which would divert $2 billion for high-speed rail and $5.5 billion of grants that could fund transit and reapply the funds for highways, are an urgent matter today. Call your Senator right away (switchboard number is 202-224-3121) to urge that these amendments, in particular, not go through.

The U.S. Senate has been going through rounds of amendments on its version of the economic stimulus bill. Unfortunately, as far as transit is concerned, the discussion in the Senate has gone from bad to worse. Last week, we examined the transportation provisions included in the original Senate version; while that version included $2 billion allocated to high-speed rail, it included only $8.4 billion total for transit, and no money for fixed guideway modernization, New Starts, or transit operation. It also provided for $5.5 billion of competitive grants, to be awarded at the discretion of the Secretary of Transportation to all types of transportation projects, including both highways and transit. A proposal from Charles Schumer (D-New York) to add $6.5 billion for transit was a promising development. But since then, certain senators — including, shamefully, California’s very own Barbara Boxer — have proposed to gut the already-paltry transit stimulus and to redirect new money toward highways:

  • Barbara Boxer and James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) will propose that $50 billion (yes, that’s with a B) be added to the highway fund.
  • The amendment proposed by Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Patty Murray (D-Washington), which would have added $5 billion for transit (of which $2 billion was for fixed guideway modernization and $1 billion for New Starts) and $13 billion for highways did not pass, falling two votes short.
  • Kit Bond (R-Missouri), who has previously discouraged Congressional attempts to address climate change on the ground that doing so would be bad for business, will propose an amendment that would redirect the $5.5 billion of competitive grants (which are currently available to both highways and transit, at the discretion of Ray LaHood) so that those funds would apply only to highways and bridges; Barbara Boxer plans to endorse this amendment. Kit Bond may also propose another amendment that would redirect $2 billion high-speed rail allocation to — you guessed it — highways.
  • Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) proposed to allow those purchasing cars to claim an income tax deduction for sales tax and interest payments on car loans.

Transit agencies across the nation are in financial trouble, proposing service cuts and fare hikes, and this while national interest in transit is increasing. These agencies could desperately use funding for operations. Senators’ proposals to amend the stimulus by allocating ever-increasing funds toward highway construction demonstrate startingly short sight, and a thoroughly dissapointing lack of commitment to building the sustainable transportation system that this country both craves and needs. We deserve better, and our senators need to hear about public dissatisfication with their misguided proposals. Please call Barbara Boxer at 202.224.3553, Dianne Feinstein at 202.224.3841, write in here, and if you are reading from outside California, call your senator to support for increased funding for transit, and to express dissatisfaction with the most recent amendments that irresponsibly abandon transit to fund more highways.

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