Muckraker: Grist on Politics

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is pushing to get more mass-transit money into the Senate version of the economic stimulus package, teaming up with Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a fellow New York Democrat, who successfully squeezed an additional $3 billion for transit into the House stimulus bill last week.

“In order for our economy to get the boost it so desperately needs from the stimulus package, we have to ensure there is enough funding to upgrade our nation’s transportation infrastructure, particularly mass transit,” said a statement from Schumer’s office on Monday. “We are going to work night and day to make sure this stimulus package gives New York’s subways, buses, and rails the boost they need to keep our mass transit system on track.”

Schumer introduced an amendment to the Senate stimulus package that would increase transit funding by $6.5 billion, making for a total of $14.9 billion. Money for transit capital projects would increase from $8.4 billion to $10.4 billion, $2 billion would be added for rail modifications, and another $2.5 billion would be added for the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program.

As Streetsblog points out, both the House and Senate versions of the bill are currently missing operating assistance. The original proposal from House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair James Oberstar (D-Minn.) called for $2.5 billion for operating assistance, which would help struggling transit programs keep the trains and buses running by temporarily covering some of the costs of fuel, maintenance, and employee salaries. A proposed amendment from Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) to restore that funding never made it to the floor in the House.

Operations funding is probably more important than money going to new transit projects, according to Deron Lovaas, federal transportation policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’s hard to seriously consider expanding transit service when agencies are facing cutbacks right now,” he said. “Before you can bring the patient back to life, you need to stop the bleeding. That’s what’s happening with transit service shortfalls right now across the country.”

The Senate is expected to take up debate of the stimulus package this week; senators will have the opportunity to amend the bill on the floor.