|Peter DeFazio; courtesy of OregonLive.com.|
UPDATE (27 January 2008): The general information in this post is still relevant, but DeFazio’s amendment has been withdrawn. New details are posted here.
As we have mentioned before in the context of a proposal made by the Congress for the New Urbanism, the current draft of the federal stimulus plan leaves something to be desired: $40 billion of the $825 billion stimulus (that’s less than 5%) is allocated to transportation generally, and of that, $30 billion is reserved for “roads and bridges,” with only $10 billion slated for transit. And of the $10 billion, a paltry $1.1 billion is marked for intercity rail. This funding allocation represents a deterioration from the superior proposal of Jim Oberstar (D-Minnesota), chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee — in which highway funding would have remained fixed at about $30 million — but transit would have received $17 million, with $5 billion for intercity rail. (Meanwhile, compare this to China, which is planning and building a vast national high-speed rail network. The Chinese stimulus plan includes $88 billion for intercity rail.) And not only is transit funding inadequate in the current incarnation of the federal stimulus, but spending measures comprise just two-thirds of the total. Of course, tax cuts account for the remaining one-third, and the GOP is pushing for still more tax cuts to be included. Disappointing, though not altogether unexpected, is the emerging consensus that the move toward watering down the stimulus has its source in Larry Summers, who apparently gave Obama quite poor advice that tax cuts would somehow be the most effective way of executing economic recovery, even though both economics and common sense suggest otherwise. The battle to shake some sense into the stimulus continues, but we have a chance to score a victory for transit by supporting an amendment to the stimulus package proposed by Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), chair of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee. The amendment would allocate an additional $2 billion to transit — not to new infrastructure, but assistance to operations. On this site, we have chronicled the one-way drain of funds away from California’s cash-strapped transit agencies, forcing them to consider service cuts and fare increases. In the Bay Area, BART has already recently considered (although shelved, for the time being) the idea of retreating back to 20-minute route headways on nights and weekends to close a shortfall of at least $80 million projected for the next 18 months. Similarly, Muni faces close to a $100 million deficit in the next 18 months and will raise the monthly adult FastPass price from $45 to $55 this July 2009. Caltrain already raised its fares on January 1, Monterey-Salinas Transit did the same on January 3, and SamTrans will follow suit on February 1. But, as this map from Transportation For America indicates, rising fares and the threat of service cuts is a serious and recurring problem from coast to coast. Transit operation is itself a source of jobs, albeit not construction jobs, which have been the focus of the stimulus thus far. For many reasons, transit operations deserve a piece of the stimulus pie, and the DeFazio amendment is worthy of our support.
The amendment is currently sitting in the House Rules Committee, where its fate is to be decided tomorrow, Tuesday, January 27 at 3:30 PM EST. The timeline is short, so we need to act quickly. Please take a couple minutes right now to do so, and encourage friends and coworkers to do the same. Call the chair of the Rules Committee, Louise Slaughter (D-New York), so that the amendment may be allowed to reach the floor for a vote.