As more New York State Republican representatives try to whittle down the MTA-supporting payroll tax, their colleagues in Washington are trying to do the same with federal funds dedicated toward transit. Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee voted to send a markup of the transportation bill to the floor, and if passed by the House and Senate and approved the president — a tall order indeed — the bill could rob New York City of billions of dollars of transit funds.
For extensive coverage of the bill, check out articles from Reuters and The L.A. Times. Streetsblog D.C. offered a short summary of the mark-up’s impact. Essentially, the Ways and Means Committee is hoping to bar gas tax revenue from funding transit. Today, those taxes are essential part of federal transit grants. Ben Goldman writes:
The Ways & Means bill [PDF] would funnel all gas tax revenue toward road programs, redirecting billions of dollars per year away from transit, which for decades has received about 20 percent of fuel tax receipts. Instead, the House GOP wants transit funding to come entirely from the general fund, pitting transit against all other government spending. To offset that spending, $40 billion would have to be cut from the rest of the federal budget.
Essentially, the House GOP is holding transit hostage to achieve budget cuts elsewhere — and they don’t seem to care if the hostage dies. They will also be tossing aside a precedent set during the Reagan administration, one that has enjoyed bipartisan support through several transportation bills, including the 2005 law, known as SAFETEA-LU, which was passed by a Republican president and Republican Congress.
The announcement of the mark-up, which you can read here, came just one day before the committee voted to send the bill to the House floor, and a broad coalition of union officials, politicians, contractors and transit agency heads have voiced their opposition. Later today, in fact, MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota will join with TWU President John Samuelsen, NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and four New York House representatives to speak out against the bill.
In the meantime, Lhota, a one-time Giuliani deputy, has penned a letter to David Camp, the chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee. “The 2.86 cents of the motor fuels tax currently dedicated for public transportation provides a stable fund source that the MTA relies on to fund its capital investments. It is critical,” he wrote, “that these funds continue to be dedicated for public transportation purposes.”
He later warned of the consequences of federal divestment. “Consistent, on-going investment by the federal government is critical to ensure that the MTA continues to be a safe and reliable system for the long term,” he said. “A less predictable funding stream for public transportation will not only result in degraded service, but will also have a ripple effect on manufacturers and suppliers that serve the transit industry.”
This is an issue that extends far beyond the borders of New York. It would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs throughout the nation in various domestic industry. Within the city, it would likely impact any future work on the Second Ave. Subway or other system expansion plans. It is yet another attack on transit dollars from those who underestimate the importance of public transit to the nation’s economy. It is a measure that likely won’t survive the Senate or the President’s veto power, but the House GOP is serious about gutting the funding mechanism for capital plans for transit agencies through the nation. That is a scary future to ponder indeed.