Levees Not War
Rebuilding New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast.

Get Congress on Track to Stimulate Mass Transit

01/25/09

“For every $1 billion we spend on transportation infrastructure, we get a 6-times multiplier effect and between 25,000 and 30,000 jobs created. . . . The Chinese are spending $600 billion over the next two years on infrastructure—while we are told we can only spend $40 billion?”

—Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) to the House of Representatives

LNW_GCT.midQ: Why are Democrats bowing to Republican demands for tax cuts ($300 billions’ worth in a $825 billion package)—and cutting badly needed appropriations for the Army Corps of Engineers / infrastructure / mass transit projects to win unobtainable “bipartisan” support for the stimulus bill?

Elana Schor at TalkingPointsMemo.com reports that the economic recovery package being considered in the House of Representatives gives “only $10 billion for rail and other public transportation projects, compared with $30 billion for roads.” The Senate Appropriations Committee is considering even less for mass transit projects: $9.5 billion. In a package projected to cost $825 billion, in a nation where public transit has been shortchanged for over a decade, that just ain’t enough. The U.S. spends about $12 billion each month in Iraq. Ten billion is as much as has been given to Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley (each) in the $700 billion bailout for banks and insurers—and only one-fifth of what Citigroup is getting.

Why is this important? Levees Not War is a strong advocate for public transit not only because trains are cool (see above) but because the U.S. must reduce its dependence on automobiles and on importing foreign oil (and extracting it from off the Gulf Coast). Carbon emissions aggravate global warming, which intensifies hurricanes and raises sea levels. That, along with the 10,000 miles of oil industry pipelines through the Louisiana wetlands, hurts New Orleans, Louisiana, and other precious places. More broadly, investment in public transportation and other infrastructure also gives more “bang for the buck” in creating jobs and providing public works of lasting value that help support the economy in a sustainable way (as in helping people get to work—provided there are jobs to get to).

A friend in New York City points out how transportation spending will help the economy very directly:

“Investment in public transportation in fact WILL inject money immediately into our economy, by keeping subway and bus fares from going up: If Congress directs funds in the stimulus package to be spent on our cities’ subways and buses, urban Americans will be able to spend more money on goods and services instead of on the rate increases that will be inevitable if those funds do not go to cities right away for public transportation.”

We’re calling congressional offices asking why the Democrats are cutting badly needed appropriations for the Army Corps of Engineers and mass transit and water purification projects to make room for even more tax cuts demanded by Republicans—for elusive “support” they probably won’t give to Obama’s economic recovery package anyway. (See Bob Herbert’s sharp NYT column on how insane it is to listen to Republicans about any further tax cuts.)

House transportation committee chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) acknowledged in a speech to the U.S. Mayors’ Conference last week that the transportation dollars were trimmed to accommodate tax cuts that the Democrats are offering to garner Republican support. How many votes will that get? And are these votes even needed? Oberstar told the mayors:

The reason for the reduction in overall funding—we took money out of Amtrak and out of aviation; we took money out of the Corps of Engineers, reduced the water infrastructure program, the drinking water and the wastewater treatment facilities and sewer lines, reduced that from $14 billion to roughly $9 billion—was the tax cut initiative that had to be paid for in some way by keeping the entire package in the range of $850 billion. [LNW’s emphasis]

New Developments and Next Moves

Adam Terando at OpenLeft says “[Illinois Senator] Dick Durbin is on Appropriations and is a huge Amtrak supporter. Call him up [202-224-2152] and tell him we need high speed rail.” Another ally is Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), who has written an amendment that would increase funding for rail in the stimulus bill.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR)
WDC office phone: 202-225-6416
Oregon office toll-free: 1-800-944-9603
Online contact form here

See Rep. DeFazio here, talking at length with Rachel Maddow on Friday, Jan. 23 (in the last several minutes of the segment). E-mail Rachel (rachel@msnbc.com) and urge her to keep the story going. She is totally on our side. Ask her to talk with DeFazio on a daily basis. And bring on “Amtrak Joe” Biden.

Other good news: The Surface Transportation Policy Partnership has established a new coalition called OneRail to promote the interests of commuter rail lines, public transportation, and the environment—including Amtrak and the Natural Resources Defense Council. According to the STPP web site, “The coalition will encourage public policies recognizing rail as a critical element of the national transportation system and an essential part of the future economic growth and environmental well-being of the nation.”

Here’s what we do:

Here’s how the transportation part of the Senate Appropriations bill looks now:

According to Senator Daniel Inouye’s Highlights of American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan: $365 Billion Investment Package, “Combined with the economic recovery tax cuts and mandatory programs announced by the Senate Finance Committee, the Senate legislation totals $825 billion. It is estimated that this legislation will create or sustain over 4 million jobs.”

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