Koch-Funded Groups: Cut All Federal Funding for Walking, Biking, Transit

The Highway Trust Fund is going broke, but a group of conservatives is pretending that the problem is "squirrel sanctuaries." Image: Brookings

As inflation eats away at the gas tax, the Highway Trust Fund is going broke. But a group of conservatives is pretending that the problem is transit and “squirrel sanctuaries.” Image: Brookings

You know it’s time to fight over the federal transportation bill when the fossil fuel-soaked elements of the conservative movement start agitating to stop funding everything except car infrastructure.

Yesterday, a coalition of 50 groups, several funded by the Koch brothers, sent a letter to Congress arguing that the way to fix federal transportation funding is to cut the small portion that goes to walking, biking, and transit [PDF]. The signatories do not want Congress to even think about raising the gas tax, which has been steadily eaten away by inflation since 1993.

The coalition membership includes many stalwarts of the Koch network, including Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Partners, and the Club for Growth. The Koch brothers recently went public with plans to spend nearly $900 million on the 2016 elections.

The billionaire-friendly coalition is trying to play the populist card. Raising the gas tax to pay for roads, they say, is “regressive” because poor people will pay more than rich people if the gas tax is increased. But eliminating all funding for transit, biking, and walking, which people who can’t afford a car rely on? Not a problem to these guys.

“This scorched-earth proposal would eliminate the ability of local transportation agencies to invest in their own transportation priorities and lock us all into a 1950’s — style highway- and car-only mentality that flies in the face of common sense — not to mention economics and what the free market and simple demographics have been telling us for years,” wrote Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists.

Eliminating federal funding for transit would devastate many American cities, where transit agency budgets would be thrown into turmoil. And while federal funding for biking and walking can make a big difference because the infrastructure is so cost efficient, killing those programs won’t affect the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund. The savings wouldn’t even be enough to cover the cost of rebuilding a single interchange in Wisconsin.

Congressional Republicans tried this maneuver before during the last transportation bill reauthorization battle, unsuccessfully, although they did eventually whittle away secure funding for programs like Safe Routes to School. That didn’t actually solve any problems, but it was a fine way for the GOP to pretend like the country can go on spending like a drunken sailor on highways.