GOP Budget Would Cut Transpo to the Bone

Wednesday night, the House Budget Committee narrowly passed — by one vote — the 2013 federal budget proposed by chairman Paul Ryan. It calls for all kinds of spending cuts, casts aside the bargains struck during last year’s budget debacle, and asserts that by 2050, all federal spending outside of entitlement programs (Medicare, Medicaid) should only equal 4 percent of America’s GDP. For comparison, most peer nations spend around 5 percent of GDP on infrastructure alone.

Rep. Paul Ryan's budget would see transportation spending dwindle, leaving a gap that states haven't been able to fill by themselves. Photo: ##http://www.csmonitor.com/var/ezflow_site/storage/images/media/content/2012/0321-ryan2/12078621-2-eng-US/0321-ryan_full_380.jpg##Jacquelyn Martin/AP via CS Monitor##

Just to be clear, the budget is separate from the two-year transportation bill passed by the Senate two weeks ago, the House’s five-year drill-and-drive bill, and the 90-day extension of transportation programs introduced yesterday. Think of it as the national wish list, a policy statement that tries to set a tone for subsequent spending bills.

Compared to President Obama’s transportation plan, which Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has been defending for the past month, the House GOP plan would essentially cut transportation spending by 25 percent. The Ryan document singles out high-speed rail for criticism, saying its job creation potential has been exaggerated.

In making the case for his budget plans, Obama has emphasized the word “investment,” especially when it comes to transportation infrastructure. The president has asked for a six-year, $476 bilion transportation program, including a $50 billion injection available for projects immediately.

The House GOP’s plan undercuts the President’s by 25 percent on transportation, which would force state and local governments to pick up the slack, or else.

There are at least two problems with relying more on states to handle the construction and maintenance of a national, multimodal transportation system. First, state DOTs are in many cases set up to be highway-building agencies and not much more, and they’re not often held accountable for their expensive, car-centric boondoggles.

Second, cities and states are even more constrained than the feds right now. That’s because they have two things working against them: the growing reluctance of the feds to invest in transportation, and the disproportionate rise in construction costs, as Brad Plumer wrote for the Washington Post.

Keep in mind that this is all happening at a time when infrastructure is getting increasingly expensive to build — the CBO notes that the cost of building highways has tripled since 1980, far faster than inflation. States are spending the same, but getting less and less.

Basically, states haven’t been able to keep up with their own needs for years, so to assume that they will start doing so is more magical thinking from House Republicans.

  • Ubrayj02

    This policy is a no-brainer for the GOP to pursue. Transit will quickly reach price parity with cars as fuel prices continue their bumpy rise in the post-peak-oil world we now live in. GOP states are some of the most auto-dependent areas of the country. Imagine the loss of wealth, top to bottom, when the bottom of the suburban ponzi scheme falls out from underneath nearly every city, town, and state as car-based “growth” freezes and begins its inevitable contraction.

    If the GOP cripples transit funding, cars will have to maintain their central focus in American life for at least a few years more than they might otherwise. This will maintain the primacy of the GOP’s entitlement hungry car-only voting base.

    It will also make them friends with any auto industry lobbyist that wants to keep the US on the fast track to fully fund 20th century big government car-only subsidies (freeway system expansion funded by feds, car ownership tax rebates, oil subsidies, etc.)

    I don’t think it is a good thing for the country, but when has that mattered in politics?

    The real question should not be “this is a good idea” or “this is a bad idea” but how do you disrupt the politics behind this decision?

    I think that is really where any livability movements efforts need to be focused.

  • In capitalism, when you can’t find a customer, you lower your price. Even the federal government understands that. The premiums have now dropped by 20% to 40%, depending on your age, circumstance and state. If you considered this pre-existing coverage plan before and found it too costly, give it a look now. best would be to check “Penny Health” for your health insurance

  • Jace T.

    The GOP only looks as far ahead as the next election cycle and doesn’t care about the long term ramifications of their policies.

  • That’s the beauty of a new competitor arising in the industry. It drives innovation, but it also drops prices. Win-win for the consumer.

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