GOP Tax Cuts Threaten Funding for Transit, Biking, and Walking

Congress is on track to trigger spending austerity that will cut programs like New Starts and TIGER.

The GOP's tax overhaul overwhelmingly benefits the wealthiest Americans, and it could trigger major spending cuts. Chart: Economic Policy Institute
The GOP's tax overhaul overwhelmingly benefits the wealthiest Americans, and it could trigger major spending cuts. Chart: Economic Policy Institute

In the middle of the night on Friday, Republican Senators passed a bill overhauling America’s tax code on nearly a strict party-line vote. Slashing taxes for corporations and the wealthy, the bill is projected to increase the national debt by $1.5 trillion over the next decade.

Among many other impacts, if the bill becomes law it threatens federal funds for transit, biking, and walking.

While the tax bill itself doesn’t cut funding, a law already on the books triggers reductions in spending to offset losses of tax revenue.

For transportation, discretionary transportation programs like New Starts, which funds transit expansions, and TIGER, which has helped cities across the country build multi-modal projects, are especially at risk.

With $150 billion annually on the chopping block unless Congress changes course, even more of America’s $50 billion surface transportation program could be targeted. That’s because rather than raise the gas tax, Congress has been funding infrastructure using general fund money and various accounting gimmicks.

Transportation for America’s Kevin Thompson said in a statement that the bill makes the chances of a federal infrastructure bill even more remote:

This tax reform measure triggers ten years of annual automatic cuts to transportation programs unless Congress takes further action, and it may also signal the final demise of a national infrastructure package. After creating more than a trillion dollars in new debt, it is difficult to fathom where this Congress will find the resources to pay for another trillion-dollar program.

To add insult to injury, the Senate bill eliminated the meager $20 per month in commuter benefits available to people who bike to work. People for Bikes’ Tim Blumenthal wrote in a statement:

What is the Senate thinking? Why single out a modest incentive that encourages people to bike to work, increasing community health and reducing congestion, while maintaining a significantly larger and more expensive incentive for people to drive?

I believe that’s known as Republican identity politics.

The tax bill still has to go to conference committee where differences between the Senate and House bills would get hammered out, and then go up for a vote in each chamber again. Or the House might rubber stamp the Senate version. Trump has said he wants to sign the bill before Christmas.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The logical next step therefore — eliminate Social Security and Medicare for the one-percent, postponing the day of doom for those programs. And eliminating federal road funding. You pay for yours, we’ll pay for ours, and we’ll cut out the minimum in Washington.

  • TakeFive

    Almost two-thirds or it goes to the top 1%.

    What rubbish! Never heard of the Economic Policy Institute so I did some checking. Now that I know, I wouldn’t trust their analysis any more than I would the Heritage Foundation, maybe less. BTW, there analysis was done before the final significant last minute changes like keeping the AMT.

    I suspect the “chicken little” approach of this piece is equally vacuous; it’s certainly waaay premature. Might be worth checking out the piece in The Hill listed under Today’s Headlines: http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/362657-bipartisan-house-group-readies-infrastructure-report-amid-questions

  • CroatianSalt

    Yeah, Angie seems shocked that those who pay the most tax get the biggest benefit from cuts in taxes. Gee, who’d have thunk it?

  • CroatianSalt

    Sadly for your socialistic wet dreams, social security and Medicare are actually insurance contracts and not discretionary welfare payments. So you cannot just withhold them unless you want a tsunami of lawsuits.

  • Newtonmarunner

    Social Security and Medicare are not legal insurance contracts. They’re social insurance programs (not means-tested) subject to the political process. Benefits can be increased or reduced for current and future recipients through the legislative process (not saying they should or shouldn’t). Citizens can’t sue if Congress enacts legislation cutting benefits (not saying they should reduce benefits) any more than a Medicaid recipient can sue if Congress enacts legislation reducing benefits.

  • KosstAmojan

    Socialist nonsense, mad you can’t get your bribe from uncle sam to go to your job anymore. How about NOT being partisan hacks and just report the news.

  • S.P. Miller

    That completely misses the point of progressive arguments against the tax bill. On average, the 1% do not need an additional $32 k (or what ever is the final number) in their pockets. The bottom 20% do need that extra $10. We should be increasing the EITC; not giving the 1% money back on their taxes. It is obscene they are getting anything back.

  • S.P. Miller

    It is news that we will both be increasing the deficit and cutting benefits for bike commuters, while maintaining a huge benefit for auto commuters in the form of tax-free parking benefits. Given how small a slice of pie the bike commuter benefit is (probably smaller than minting the penny), Angie is right to highlight it.

  • neroden

    Why give giant tax breaks to billionaires while raising taxes on everyone else?

    Is there any possible reason to do that? Well, that’s what the Republicans are doing, because they’re evil. Really, I can’t describe it simpler than that.

    They want to bring back inherited aristocracy, and everything they do works towards that end. I mean, I’ll do OK, since I’m well into the landed gentry classes, but you suckers will get hosed.

  • Jake

    “I believe that’s known as Republican identity politics.”

    Dumb tax policy has nothing to do with identity politics.

  • CarlessInOKC

    Don’t feed the troll.

  • TakeFive

    Not sure what you mean by “raising taxes on everyone else”? The temporary nature of some provisions is to meet the quirky requirements of Senate rules. It’s anticipated that provisions will be extended – assuming good economic growth – after the initial six(?) year period.

  • TakeFive

    If they follow through with spending reforms then I assume that the one percenters’ SS and Medicare benefits will be limited. There’s a bigger picture here you’re missing.

  • 1980Gardener

    Won’t this also result in cuts to roads?

  • So in other words, the predictions that it will increase the deficit by “only” $1.5 trillion are incorrect. Either the taxes revert and it costs us $1.5T total, or the taxes stay in place and it costs us far, far more. You can’t have it both ways.

  • I’m sure that will completely offset the impacts of letting the children of supremely wealthy parents keep 100% of their unearned wealth. Meanwhile I’ll keep paying income and payroll taxes on all the money I actually work to earn. Seems fair.

  • TakeFive

    I’m not a proponent of having it in any particular way. But I’ve yet to see the final version and I see more speculation than substance so far. I see nothing particularly accurate or substantive in your reply in other words.

    It’s possible that if growth can exceed 3% – since I believe they used a 2.2% rate of GDP growth – that the ‘increased’ deficit could be negligible or even positive.

  • TakeFive

    I am not a proponent of eliminating the inheritance tax. I also recognize that I have no power or influence of whether it happens.

    So far as unearned wealth I heard Steve Moore speak to a provision that would tax all income at least once. The conservatives’ issue is whether it should be taxed more than once. Interestingly, Steve was more interested in assuring that the wealthiest among us which are more likely to be liberal get taxed at least once.

    Exactly, how familiar are you with what is actually likely to pass?

  • David Nelson

    Part of the problem is that this bill is being rammed through without full congressional participation and with nowhere near the necessary time to review a huge complicated document. As for the phased in measures: there is no guarantee that Congress will fix anything once the bill is passed. To assume it makes sense to pass a destructive Bill on the chance it might be fixed is worse than naive.

  • TakeFive

    Fair enough.

    Sadly perhaps, its passage will likely mean Republicans retain control in DC in 2018 which I know is different from what many are thinking.

  • David Nelson

    Hopefully not. the current crop shows nothing like fiscal responsibility, nor an evidence based practice.

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