House GOP’s 2012 Transportation Budget: Deep Cuts, Especially for Livability

In about an hour, Congressional appropriators will vote on how much money to allocate for transportation in the next fiscal year. It won’t be pretty.

This smiling man (THUD Chair Tom Latham) is getting ready to take the axe to prized livability programs. Photo: ##http://iowaindependent.com/16904/democrats-gear-up-early-for-another-crack-at-latham##Iowa Independent##

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) is planning deep cuts to many programs, some reminiscent of House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan’s notorious budget proposal, which wanted to slash transportation spending by about a third.

The subcommittee is led by Iowa Republican Tom Latham, whom we profiled when he took the gavel. At the time, we were worried he would end up cutting important livability programs, and here he is, doing exactly that.

At least transit and highway spending share the pain, both getting cut the same 34 percent. Highway funding goes from about $41 billion to $27 billion; transit funding (excluding New Starts) goes from $8.3 billion to $5.3 billion.

Bizarrely, the bill regresses to a pre-cooperation era and returns to the age of agency silos. One great accomplishment of the Obama administration has been the Sustainable Communities Partnership which joined USDOT, HUD and the EPA to work together on common development programs, planning inexorably linked programs of housing and transportation in conjunction with each other, and in consultation with the environmental regulator. But the appropriations bill prohibits HUD from using any funding for anything related to the Partnership.

In his excellent analysis of the dismal news, Transportation for America’s Stephen Lee Davis also delivers this blow: the innovative TIGER grants, TIGGER grants and high-speed rail programs are cut entirely. And more, Davis writes:

The New Starts transit program, which essentially funds all new transit system construction, gets cut to $1.55 billion down from $2 billion in FY10. In addition, a policy tweak is made that requires state or local funds to make up more than 50 percent of any new grant agreements. Or put another way, the feds will no longer cover more than half of any New Starts transit project, exacerbating an existing gap between the share the government will pay for transit vs. highway projects. (Highway projects get around 80 percent of their funds from the federal government.)

Existing passenger rail service faces deep cuts of its own. Amtrak’s capital budget (new rolling stock, new lines, equipment, etc.) is cut by $24 million (from $922 million to $898 million; down from $1 billion in 2010), but the operations budget is where Amtrak takes a big hit, going from $563 million to $227 million. On top of that, an important policy change will prevent Amtrak from using any of their operating funds on state-supported lines — lines where a state has partnered with Amtrak to increase passenger rail service and ridership. To put that change in perspective, in 2010 9 million rides were taken on state-supported routes.

Amtrak State-Supported routes, from the ##http://republicans.transportation.house.gov/Media/file/112th/Railroads/Rail_Competition_Bill_Package.pdf##T&I Committee report##

The bill also prohibits any new RRIF loans or loan guarantees. RRIF is a loan program, like TIFIA for rail projects, which has received significant attention over the last year. Cumbersome rules and application processes have resulted in the program being seriously undersubscribed, spending just $1 billion of the $35 billion it has at its disposal. Republicans have held hearings to work on improving the program, but now it appears they’d rather just leave it for dead.

There is a silver lining to this disastrous bill, Davis says, and it’s that the incompetence and intransigence that we’ve seen lately in Congress will keep it from becoming law — for a long time, at least. Remember, the fiscal year ends September 30 — the red-letter day when the current SAFETEA-LU extension and the gas tax also expire — and Congress is nowhere near ready to pass a consensus 2012 budget out of both houses.

That means that we can look forward to another budget extension, and possibly a whole string of extensions. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a clean extension — lately, Republicans have been flexing their muscle to demand spending cuts, even on extensions. But we won’t see this bill enacted for quite a while, if ever.

  • John Guidinger

    I ride these trains all the time.  Who elected these stone age conservatives?  What is happening to our country?

  • Circa1646

    If there is any example of ludicrous, wasteful government spending, Amtrak
    is it.  Amtrak receives most of its operational
    funding from the taxpayers. Cutting the subsidy and government grants to Amtrak
    would save over a billion dollars a year. Amtrak operates on a grotesquely
    large government subsidy – $1.563 billion a year. And when you consider that
    Amtrak had $2.4 billion in revenues in 2009, it is clear that Amtrak relies
    solely on these subsidies and grants.

    Most companies operate just fine without a government subsidy. Businesses
    that can’t, close up shop, allowing those resources to be reallocated somewhere
    else where they are better needed.

    In the case of Amtrak, U.S. taxpayers are forced to fork over more than a
    billion and a half dollars a year to subsidize a company that would not exist
    under its current model otherwise. Propping up this zombie business is
    ludicrous, especially in a time of fiscal dire straits.

  • ywlke

    @Circa1646: Amtrak and passenger rail are an infrastructure service.  The interstate highway system wouldn’t stand a chance, and actually would probably never have even formed if not for heavy government subsidies.  If you want to call for removal of government subsidies for Amtrak, I would extend that to cover all transportation industries, including road/highway and air.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Heads Up, Tom Latham: Livability Pays Big Dividends in Rural Iowa

|
You could say Oskaloosa, Iowa, population 11,000, is a model of small-town livability. Families rent apartments over renovated historic storefronts. Local college students take the bike lane down Market Street to grab a bite in the local restaurants. Visitors travel from distant towns to browse the city’s local bookstore in its revitalized, walkable town square. […]

House Approves Transpo Spending Bill After Stripping Out $ for Livability

|
Congressmen Oberstar and Blumenauer, here speaking together at the 2007 Bike Summit, were on opposite sides of a dispute about increased funding for livability programs yesterday. Photo: Bike Portland The House of Representatives passed its 2011 appropriations bill for Transportation and Housing and Urban Development yesterday, significantly increasing the amount going to both highways and […]

New House Rules Threaten TIGER and Livability Programs

|
The headlines have been apocalyptic. On Day One, Republicans Cripple Construction Industry Rule could endanger transportation budget, building trade jobs sector Critics say GOP rule change could cripple transportation projects As Streetsblog reported, the new House rules [PDF], passed along strict party lines with no defectors Wednesday, include a rule that allows lawmakers to spend out […]