Massive Coalition Opposes House GOP Attempt to Eviscerate Transit

The House Ways and Means committee has just passed a bill that would kick transit out of the highway trust fund, casting aside a 30-year history of providing a dedicated funding source for federal transit programs. Transit instead would be funded by a transfer from the general fund, which would have to be offset by cuts elsewhere to avoid raising the deficit. As US PIRG’s Dan Smith said yesterday, this is like saying that transit funding will come from the Tooth Fairy.

House Ways & Means' Dave Camp (R-MI) and Sander Levin (D-MI) do not see eye to eye on funding transit. Photo: ##

The attack on transit has drawn opposition from an unprecedentedly broad coalition of over 600 groups, including many that do not often find themselves on the same side of an issue. Opponents of the bill include noted transit advocates APTA and T4America, and traditionally pro-highway groups such as AASHTO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The conservative Club for Growth has even gone so far as to make the entire House transportation package a key vote, meaning members will be rewarded for opposing the bill. Rep. John Campbell has already said he has changed his position on the package, and Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) laughed at the prospect of getting a positive rating from Club for Growth for “the first time in a while.”

An amendment proposed by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, which would have removed the provision altering transit’s revenue source, was defeated along party lines during mark up this morning. However, two Republicans — Erik Paulsen of Minnesota and Vern Buchanan of Florida — broke ranks with their party and voted against the underlying bill. The bill passed anyway by a vote of 20-17.

Despite repeated attempts by Republicans to present the bill as placing transit funding on surer footing, the bill drew vocal opposition from Democrats such as ranking member Sander Levin, who said it “undermines the very structure of the Highway Trust Fund.” Blumenauer said the bill relied on “fantasy accounting” to justify a $40 billion transfer from the general fund to cover transit, and McDermott bemoaned the lack of long-term thinking behind the bill.

Rep. Charlie Rangel of New York even asked Chairman Dave Camp if there was a precedent for the Ways and Means committee to demand a complete restart of transportation authorization efforts. When informed that there was not, Rangel responded, “Well, you can be a leader, then.”

The letter from coalition members opposing the Ways and Means bill is after the jump.

12 thoughts on Massive Coalition Opposes House GOP Attempt to Eviscerate Transit

  1. They have the ways and the means to not only ignore the urgent need to
    improve and expand transit in urban areas, but to also perpetuate the
    same worn out auto-oriented strategies that have shown over and over are
    no longer generating positive return on investment, as they did several
    decades ago. Not only are they endorsing out-dated strategies while
    expecting different outcomes, but they are at the same time rolling-back
    what little improvement was made – eliminating transit funding is
    absurd and reflects the depth and breadth of intellectual detachment
    they have from important decisions they are responsible for.

    Yes, I’m in a caveman suit. I’m preparing for the direction Ways and Means is sending us – backwards . . . way back.

    transit funding, ditch highway expansions, and implement variable rate
    congestion pricing in combination with high quality, affordable, and
    reliable transit alternatives providing service in congested urban
    corridors. Keep the revenues to serve the corridors in which they are
    collected – money collected in the corridor stays in the corridor for
    both transit and highway capital and operating expenses. That’s how the system become fiscally sustainable and congested urban corridors begin to see true relief – for commuters and movement and goods.

    It’s a no-brainer . . . but we don’t have the ways and means to help get us there.

  2. Finally some sanity. Folks outside of urban centers are tired of subsidizing fancy, wasteful, and under-utilized “mass transit” boondoggles (such as our shameful and riderless mess here in Seattle).

  3. I know it’s bad form to inject facts into a political discussion, but roads have *never* had a “positive return on investment” as Rob suggested. In fact, as Warren Buffett observed when BH bought into Burlington, no form of passenger transportation since the horse has ever had a positive return; they all are subsidized.

    As for Streetless, you might want to look again. The reports from Metro Transit show 300K riders PER DAY in Seattle, hardly riderless. Maybe you just looked at the wrong route and the wrong time of day.

  4. Streetless,

    Folks inside those urban centers are getting tired of paying for those highways for you to use.  According to, we drivers only manage to cover 51% of the costs of our highways.  In 2007 when they did the study, collectively this country spent $193 Billion on highways.  That means that a subsidy of $94.57 Billion was provided to drivers.

    And a study done by the Texas DOT found that highways in urban areas come closest to actually collecting enough revenue to pay for themselves.  They don’t actually pay for themselves, but they get close.  It’s the highways out in the NON-urban areas that require the most subsidies.  It’s also those non-urban highway that have the least amount of utilization.

    So you might want to remember that the next time you drive your car onto that heavily subsidized highway that you’re doing so thanks to those urban taxpayers.

    By the way, that $94 Billion in highway subsidies would have paid to run every train, bus, monorail, ferry, cable car, automated guideway, and demand response service in the US for 3 years.

  5. Jesus Republicans, if you’re tired of wasteful spending – cut all funding and privatize the highway system. Let the “free market” figure out how to make money on it, and we’ll see how long it lasts.

  6. Regardless of your stance on transit projects, the one thing that everyone seems to have forgotten in this entire argument is that highways aren’t just used for passenger transportation.  If you’ve ever purchased anything in your life then you have benefited from the highway system in the United States.  This is the reason that highways are federally funded and not completely paid for by highway driver, to support commerce. 

  7. Bill,

    First, 40% of all freight in this country moves by rail.  The second highest amount moves by truck, just 28%.  So if we’re to conclude that we should be taxing people for the benefit of moving goods, then any commuter rail project and any project for Amtrak would actually provide a greater benefit to everyone.

    Second, your entire argument fails due to the fact that everyone is already paying for the benefit of getting things moved on the highways.  It’s a little thing called shipping/delivery fees.  Go to the store and buy a couch, you get charged a delivery fee to have that couch delivered.  That fee goes to the trucker delivering your couch, who in turn uses some of that fee to pay for the passage of the truck on the highways.

    Go to the supermarket and while you won’t find a shipping fee at the bottom of your receipt, you can rest assured that the trucker who delivered whatever you brought charged the store that fee.  And that store didn’t eat that fee; it passed it along to you in the form of higher prices.

    So taxing everyone for something that they’ve already paid for is simply unfair!

    Finally, if we built our highways just for our trucks, there would be no highway in this country with more than 4 lanes, 2 in each direction.  We build 6, 8, 10, & even 12 lane highways for drivers of cars & SUV’s; not for trucks.  And it’s all those extra lanes that really drive up the costs of our highways.

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