Stimulus: Mass Transit Slashed for Tax Cuts

This news has been making its way around the blogosphere, but I thought I’d throw in my two cents. Congressman Oberstar (D-MN), Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure is indicating that spending for mass transit in the stimulus plan was slashed to make room for tax cuts.

But he also said his proposals to distribute billions of dollars for infrastructure through the Army Corps of Engineers, the national passenger rail network Amtrak and other programs, were sliced during negotiations within his party over spending and tax measures.

‘The reason for the reduction in overall funding … was the tax cut initiative had to be paid for in some say,’ [sic] he said.

This is a bad idea. On the purely economic implications of tax cuts instead of spending, I’ll point to this post by Paul Krugman and this one by Brad DeLong. Instead, let’s place this another context. In November, Los Angeles residents, some of the most car-friendly people in the world, voted to increase the sales tax to fund an expansion of the county’s subway and light rail lines. A similar measure passed in Santa Clara County. Californians also approved $10 billion in bonds for the construction of a high-speed rail line. Indeed, according to the Wall Street Journal, such ballot propositions passed all over the country.

Americans want more mass transit. And yet, even today, when the Los Angeles MTA board finally approved a study for the subway that would connect downtown with Santa Monica, they also discussed cutting 160,000 hours of bus service in the face of budget cuts.

We should be investing more in mass transit – local, regional, and multistate. This stimulus package is the ideal opportunity to do so, revitalizing urban life and combating climate change, while generating jobs. However, even if concerns about the ‘shovel readiness’ of mass transit projects prevents a massive investment, we should use the money to fill shortfalls in transit authority budgets, so that existing service can be expanded rather than cut.

There is a clear disconnect here between the American people, who less than three months ago were willing to pay higher taxes in order to build more mass transit and Congress. It is depressing that even Democrats apparently have their priorities wrong.