California and the Stimulus

There are a couple of interesting stories on the stimulus package and California today. Starting with this one (h/t Calitics):

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), chaired by Congressman Chris Van Hollen, today announced the DCCC is launching a Putting Families First ad and grassroots campaign in 28 targeted Republican districts.  The ads focus on the Republicans out of step priorities by putting bank bail outs and building schools in Iraq before the needs of the Americans in the struggling economy.

Targeted California Congressmen include:

Representative Dan Lungren                         CA-03
Representative Elton Gallegy                         CA-24
Representative Ken Calvert                            CA-44
Representative Brian Bilbray                         CA-50

I’m especially happy to see Calvert targeted. I campaigned for Bill Hedrick in the past election and was pleasantly surprised to see how well he performed. I don’t expect that the ads will target the Orange County part of the district. I do think, however, that Hedrick will have to work to tighten the gap in Orange County if he wants to be able to win.

Update: This is exactly the kind of action the California Democratic Party should have taken this summer with regards to Republican obstructionism on the budget. It is still what they should be doing now – but this summer it could have yielded dividends in the election. The state party should take note.

Moving on, I don’t often have good things to say about Senator Feinstein, but I’ll give her credit for this (from CQ):

The first amendment scheduled for debate is a proposal from Patty Murray , D‑Wash., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that would boost the bill’s highway funding from $27 billion to $40 billion and its transit funding from $8.4 billion to $13.4 billion.

This is a needed amendment. The stimulus package is already weighted too strongly toward tax cuts and too small overall. Infrastructure and transit spending will help put shovels in the ground, and transit spending in particular will help advance us toward a cleaner economy. Personally, I think this stimulus package should be used much more heavily to advance the serious investment we need in clean energy.

Which is part of what makes this so disappointing:

Friends of the Earth tells Streetsblog San Francisco that Senator Barbara Boxer’s staff has confirmed that Boxer and Senator Inhofe will present an amendment to the federal Stimulus Plan for $50 billion in additional funding for highways, bringing the total to $80 billion, exactly the figure Inhofe demanded last week in a letter to the Committee for Environment and Public Works.

I’m all in favor of more infrastructure spending, and this post doesn’t indicate what the spending will be used for. There are certainly any number of highway and bridge repairs that are desperately necessary. However, I dislike seeing spending going to car-based transit and not a corresponding amount going to mass transit. Unlike others, I’m not as bothered by the cooperation with Inhofe, no matter how odious I think he is.

Finally, LA Mayor Villarigosa is going to lobby Congress for more mass transit spending for LA.

Villaraigosa wants to ensure Los Angeles remains high on the list for funding for major transportation, green-energy projects and big-ticket items such as the “Subway to Sea” as well as the mayor’s ambitious solar initiative. He also wants federal money to go directly to cities.

This may be a day late and a dollar short. The time to do this would seem to have been a week or two ago when the core of the bill was still being written. That said, I certainly believe more money needs to be spend as aid to state and local governments. Such spending may not necessarily create new jobs, but it can certainly help prevent current jobs from being lost. And when jobs are lost, the quality of government services degrade, just as more people come to rely on those services. It is a dangerous cycle of events.

Finally, one of the major objections to more infrastructure spending, and mass transit spending in particular, is that it wasn’t sufficiently ‘shovel ready’. On that subject I point to this post by Paul Krugman last week, where he argues that stimulus spending should probably continue through 2011. I am all in favor of a broader spending package even if the jobs won’t get underway immediately, especially if the spending is on projects that advance other goals, such as combating climate change. Of course, perhaps that spending should be in a stimulus round two package that can be more carefully assembled in the next couple of months.

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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.