Did Team Obama Gut Transit Funds From the Stimulus Package?

Reporting on last week's stimulus letdown -- when a proposal by US Rep. James Oberstar's Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for $17 billion in mass transit spending was slashed by the Appropriations Committee, while $30 billion in proposed allocations for roads and bridges remained the same -- Grist got word that the then-incoming Obama administration may have had a hand in paring down the transportation package.  

Oberstar's office says the cuts were the product of the House speaker's office, the Senate majority leader, and the Obama transition team. "How those decisions were made, I don't know," Jim Berard, communications director for the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told Grist. "It's disappointing that our recommendation was not accepted on the whole, but at the same time we got a good deal for transportation infrastructure and we want to keep the momentum going for this bill."

Opinion varies on what constitutes "a good deal for transportation infrastructure" at this moment in our nation's history. (Grist notes that there is some $50 billion in "shovel-ready" transit projects currently in the queue.) But why would a self-professed pro-urban, pro-transit, anti-oil dependence admin pull the plug on the progressive portion of this transportation spending proposal? Why would a speaker who represents downtown San Francisco go along with it?

There is speculation that Obama economic adviser Larry Summers opposed the Oberstar plan, while others think the new admin wants to reevaluate spending formulas in this year's TEA authorization, allowing an increase in transit funding that could be invested in a more deliberate, effective way -- and over a sustained period of time.

Of course, the same care could also be taken before throwing $30 billion at nebulous highway projects