It was apparently not enough to obliterate funding for bike lanes and walking paths and kids trying to get to school. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) wants to keep our tax dollars from paying for public transit as well.
Earlier this week, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) unveiled a draft transportation bill that would cut all designated funding for bike and pedestrian infrastructure, the Safe Routes to School program, and grants that have encouraged “complete streets” projects. Still, it looked like the more egregious provisions would be stripped away as the legislation — titled “The American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act” — ran through the lawmaking process. And at least the bill maintained the country’s longstanding, if weak, commitment to public transportation.
Then, Wednesday night, Boehner and the leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee proposed killing a longstanding rule that sets aside a portion of the gas tax to fund trains and buses and other public transportation systems.
“We were all expecting some weird stuff,” says David Goldberg with the nonprofit Transportation for America, which has raised the alarm over the latest move. “But we weren’t expecting this now.”
In his attempt to reverse a longstanding commitment to transit (the “mass transit account” was created in 1982 under President Ronald Reagan), Boehner may have gone too far. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials — that is, the people who build this country’s roads — has come out against the move, and there are rumors that even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce may oppose it.
What could Boehner possibly be thinking?
It’s not unimaginable that he really does see trains and buses as a threat to life, liberty, and the pursuit of getting where we’re going in a great big hurry. But as always in Washington, there’s political calculus involved. Boehner may just be trying to score points by handing Obama a “jobs” bill that the president will not sign. (If this is indeed the game, it’s ironic: Transit projects generate more jobs than roads do.)
Lest you think that all the Republicans in the House are enjoying this particular game of political football, several of them, led by Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.), tried to amend the draft bill to restore funding for bike and pedestrian projects and Safe Routes to School. Despite backing from Democrats, they were voted down. We’ll be watching to see of any of them step up now to defend mass transit.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, a more balanced version of the transportation bill has passed committee with unanimous bipartisan support. Apparently not everyone is playing games.
In the House, the antics are bound to continue for another month or more, as Congress has until the end of March to pass a new transportation bill. But Boehner, at least, has made it clear where he stands — and it’s not on some sissy metro line.
UPDATE: After we first posted this story, the list of opponents to the House transportation bill quickly swelled into the hundreds, including transit activists and environmental groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the conservative Club for Growth. Even some of Boehner’s fellow Republican representatives now say they won’t support it with the current set of baggage. Transportation for America is organizing a national call-in day Thursday, Feb. 8, to oppose the bill.
Meanwhile, it has come to light that Republican leaders apparently believe that bike paths, trains, and buses are all a part of a vast United Nations plot to demolish the “American way of life.” Really, this just gets weirder by the day.