House Republicans Vote to Defund Mass Transit in America
Much of the recent attack on high speed rail in California, especially by credulous government watchdog agencies like the Legislative Analyst’s Office and the State Auditor, is due to the fact that the extremist House Republican majority is rapidly anti-rail and has cut future high speed rail funding in pursuit of that agenda. For some reason, the LAO and State Auditor assume that those federal cuts are permanent and irreversible, despite evidence showing GOP control of the House may be short-lived. Their argument is that HSR is a “risk” because of uncertainty about federal funding – and from that position, some legislators in Sacramento don’t want to build HSR at all.
But will these government agencies and legislators apply the same logic to virtually every other mass transit project in California now that the House Republicans have voted for massive cuts in transit spending? Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic explains:
The Ways and Means Committee acted to eliminate the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund, destroying public transportation’s source of steady federal financing for capital projects, first established in the 1980s. The members of the committee determined that to remedy the fact that gas taxes have not been increased since 1993,* the most appropriate course was not to raise the tax (as would make sense considering inflation, more efficient vehicles, and the negative environmental and congestion-related effects of gas consumption) but rather to transfer all of its revenues to the construction of highways. Public transit, on the other hand, would have to fight for an appropriation from the general fund, losing its traditional guarantee of funding and forcing any spending on it to be offset by reductions in other government programs.** This as the GOP has made evident its intention to reduce funding for that same general fund through a continued push for income tax reductions, even for the highest earners.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved a transportation reauthorization bill on partisan lines (with the exception of one Republican who voted against it, Tom Petri of Wisconsin) that would do nothing to increase funding for transportation infrastructure in the United States over the next five years despite the fact that there is considerable demand for a large improvement in the nation’s road, rail, and transit networks just to keep them in a state of good repair, let alone expand them to meet the needs of a growing population….
The committee eliminated the Obama Administration’s trademark TIGER program, which has funded dozens of medium-scale projects throughout the country with a innovative merit-based approach. Instead, virtually all decisions on project funding would be made by state DOTs, which not unjustly have acquired a reputation as only interested in highways. Meanwhile, members couldn’t resist suggesting that only “true” high-speed rail projects (over 150 mph top speed) be financed by the government — even as they conveniently defunded the only such scheme in the country, the California High-Speed Rail program.
The House version of the Transportation Bill, where these cuts are being proposed, even eliminates the Safe Routes to School program which helps fund improvements to pedestrian infrastructure so kids are safe as they walk to and from school.
These proposed cuts are insane, and a sign of how pathologically reckless and out of touch with modern America the House Republicans are. And they jeopardize any number of projects in California, from BART extensions to BRT in the East Bay to Los Angeles’s 30/10 plan of rail expansion.
Democratic State Senators like Mark DeSaulnier, Joe Simitian and Alan Lowenthal should have been leading the charge against right-wing attacks on rail. Instead they’ve been allies of the House Republicans, working hard to validate their attacks on passenger rail by attacking high speed rail in Sacramento. Lowenthal wants to go to Congress. Now is a good time for him to show voters whether he will help the Republican attacks on transit or try to stop them.
Thing is, Lowenthal can’t have it both ways. An effective defense against Republican anti-transit attacks requires defending all forms of passenger rail, from HSR on down to light rail and streetcars. By enabling the right in their attacks on HSR, he has emboldened them to go after other transit too.
Yonah Freemark is right. It’s time to fight. And not just against the House Republicans, but against their allies in Sacramento, regardless of which party they’re in.