House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has put forth an idea that major news outlets are calling an “olive branch” to President Obama on infrastructure funding.
Is he offering to increase spending levels over the starvation program being proposed by Republicans on the House Transportation Committee? No. Is he proposing to include performance measures, making sure that investments contribute to national transportation priorities? No. Is he baldly trying to eliminate bike/ped funding from the budget? You got it.
Cantor’s “compromise” is already a plank of the Transportation Committee’s plan. Cantor, and Committee Chair John Mica (R-FL) want to “eliminat[e] the requirement that states must set aside 10 percent of federal surface transportation funds for transportation museums, education, and preservation would allow states to devote these monies to high-priority infrastructure projects, without adding to the deficit.”
The pot of money he’s proposing to eliminate is called Transportation Enhancements, and the primary way the federal government supports active transportation. Republicans have been using the “10 percent” figure to drum up indignation over the “misuse” of transportation funds, but it’s important to note that Transportation Enhancements make up 10 percent of the surface transportation program, which is less than a quarter of the entire federal aid highway program. Enhancements actually make up about two percent of all federal highway aid.
That’s two percent for biking and walking, which together make up 12 percent of trips. Larry Ehl of Transportation Issues Daily predicted yesterday that bike/ped funding — even though it represents a tiny proportion of the total transportation tab — would be a stumbling block in extending the current transportation bill. Indeed, it’s a major point of contention in debates over the whole bill.
It’s ridiculous, given that the vast majority of the bill is still for highways. But here comes Eric Cantor, trotting out party-line gimmicks and convincing the media it’s a breakthrough.
Know what would be a real breakthrough, Mr. Cantor? When Congress comes back into session tomorrow, pass a clean extension of SAFETEA-LU without any strings attached or budget cuts required. Then work with the Senate to pass its bipartisan bill, which itself is the product of serious compromise with some of the most conservative members of the Republican party. The bill holds spending at current levels, plus inflation; it agrees with the House on a major expansion of the TIFIA loan program; it includes some performance measures; and it preserves dedicated funding for bike/ped. Now what’s so hard about that?