Transit Fares Surprisingly Well in House Spending Bill

With some hard-right House Republicans refusing to support the package, Democrats were able to secure a few spending priorities.

If it passes the Senate, the House spending package will increase funding for transit expansion projects. Photo: King County
If it passes the Senate, the House spending package will increase funding for transit expansion projects. Photo: King County

With Donald Trump in the White House and unified Republican control of Congress, it’s an uncertain time for American transit agencies.

The president’s budget proposals have called for dramatically slashing federal transit funding, and his DOT has been slow to release transit grants that were supposed to be done deals, threatening projects all over the country.

But even in these circumstances, the budget deal released by the House of Representatives not only keeps transit whole, it actually raises funding. With some hard-right House Republicans refusing to support the package, Democrats were able to secure some spending priorities in return for their votes.

The Federal Transit Administration would get a $1 billion budget boost to $13.5 billion annually. Of that funding, $10.3 billion would be distributed by formula to transit agencies. Another $2.65 billion would be divvied up as grants to support specific transit capital improvements and expansions.

The funding level for transit capital projects is especially high compared to recent years, according to transit analyst Yonah Freemark:

Cities that have recently voted to increase local taxes to expand and improve transit — including Atlanta, Indianapolis, and Seattle — should be able to proceed with those projects as planned if this budget passes. It should also reassure cities like Nashville, where voters will head to the polls this spring to decide on a transit expansion package.

The House budget also triples funding for the TIGER program to $1.5 billion. Under Trump, however, TIGER has become a much more conventional road funding program than it was under the Obama administration, when the funding mix was tilted more toward walking, biking, and transit projects.

In addition, the bill maintains $1.3 billion in annual support for Amtrak while adding $650 million for upgrades to the Northeast Corridor, some of which could support the Gateway tunnel linking New Jersey and Manhattan. The bill would also include $35 million to restore service along the Florida Gulf Coast. (Trump had singled out Amtrak for $650 million in cuts.)

Finally, the package would provide $250 million for positive train control, following several years where Congress didn’t supply a penny to fund its mandate for this railroad safety tech.

The House spending bill appears to be on track to clear the Senate by the end of the week, averting a government shutdown, though nothing is assured.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The federal government is borrowing $trillions, in the face of soaring old age benefit costs. How do you think transit will fare when the money is being paid back?

    Tax cuts are free. Spending today is free. Pension increases are free. Etc. Until they aren’t, but hopefully everything YOU need is grandfathered by then.

  • NYCBK123

    Some good news!

  • bolwerk

    Perhaps well, actually. Given the likelihood that the Trump era will see a repeat of 2008, we can probably expect lower interest rates when these wanks try to clean up their mess.

    Though there are better answers, like promoting wage growth and somewhat higher taxes to keep growth stable.

  • TakeFive

    Seems like all those fear-mongering pieces generated a lot more comments than real world news… lol, why am I not surprised?

  • TakeFive

    Hasn’t every (two-term) President, regardless of political party, doubled the Nat’l Debt of his predecessor?

  • cygp2p

    I don’t think its fear mongering when both the White House’s proposed budget and the initial Republican House budget cut transit to the bone, and to get it and other spending back, Democrats had to sacrifice DACA. Something that will inevitably massively hurt the long term prospects of centrist Democrats. Let’s not mince words about what happened here.

  • TakeFive

    I think you’re conflating issues. Presidential budgets are by definition DOA. DACA is a whole different kettle of fish and not related to transit. What House proposal are you talking about? I understand the noise makers will make noise about lot of things but I have no knowledge of any ‘real’ spending bills that cut transit.

    The FAST Act passed in December of 2015 and passed out of the Republican House by a vote of 359-65. Not only was this just confirmed but additional money has been added to the pot. The only notable change is that TIGER will be allocated more to road/bridge projects than in the past but that’s a small price to pay.

  • bggb

    Don’t conflate social security with federal spending. That is a classic mistake.

  • Bernie Stein

    The Republican Party is just too chicken shit to really reduce the size of government. And thank God for that! But when they talk on cultural issues, be afraid, because they mean what they say! 😐

  • TakeFive

    Wouldn’t disagree; but they’ve yet to accomplish much with that side either. It seems that as long as Trump talks a good line then the natives are satisfied that at least he is trying…. or something.

    Btw, Politico has a nice summary of everything: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/03/23/heres-whats-in-the-budget-bill-nobodys-bothered-to-read-217701

  • neroden

    Federal money never has to be paid back. Please look up who prints the bills. Hint: it’s the “Bureau of Engraving and Printing” at the Treasury.

    Replace all the so-called “federal debt” — T-bills — with Federal Reserve Notes, or better yet, Treasury Notes. No more federal debt. Problem solved.

    Yes, this is really how it works.

    Theoretically if you print too much money you could get inflation, but if you issue too many T-bills you get the same amount of inflation. We printed the T-bills and we didn’t get too much inflation. Therefore there’s no problem.

    T-bills are money. They’re not really debt.

    Please, Larry, learn modern monetary theory. It’ll open your mind.

    —–
    The issue with tax cuts for billionaires is different. The issue is that they let the billionaires have so much money and power than they can buy Congressmen. It is imperative to have tax rates set so that nobody is rich enough to buy a Congressman.

  • TakeFive

    Nicely stated.

  • Lauren Bertrand

    “…somewhat higher taxes to keep growth stable”

    I’m genuinely confused by what this means? No doubt I’m not bright enough to understand, but it would seem as though you’re arguing that among the suitable reasons for higher taxes is “to keep growth stable” as though considerable growth is a bad thing. Why wouldn’t we want a surging economy? Is it possible that you believe some people would be left behind–and, if that’s the case, is it possible that it’s because these people fundamentally contribute little to nothing to the economy?

    When an economy grows, virtually everyone who either works are owns assets stands to benefit. No doubt they don’t benefit equally, but they never do–even amidst programs of massive wealth distribution.

  • bolwerk

    Rapid economic growth tends to be inflationary, which is why traditionally why central banks taper the interest rates up as growth rates increase – and the Federal Reserve has been doing that. However, higher interest rates are going disproportionately to harm many still debt-laden borrowers, including poor people and many local governments. This is in the face in the face of decades of pretty stagnant wage growth.

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