Change From The Bottom Up On Transit

by dday

The passage of the Nadler amendment restoring $3 billion in transit funds into the stimulus is a big deal, and not because of the amount. There are still more funds for corporate tax cuts in the bill than transit, which is pathetic. But in this case, the online community (led by Chris Bowers at Open Left and leaders on this issue in the Congress like Peter DeFazio used a public/private strategy to get this passed. In public DeFazio went on Rachel Maddow's show and others to decry the pittance given to transit in the bill. In private Congresscritters and constituents whipped members of the Rules Committee to get the amendment placed on the calendar for the full House. It was a true citizen lobbying effort, and it had nothing to do with "Obama's list" or any other such thing. It was engaged citizens, mature enough to navigate the corridors of power, identifying and working toward a progressive goal. We also see progressive House members willing to buck their leadership on battles they can win, and drive successful policy.

Thing is, spending on infrastructure like rail and transit cannot end with the stimulus package. Indeed, mass transit projects require long-term funding and not random moments like an economic crisis to get a quick infusion of funds. The latest report by the American Society of Civil Engineers is out, showing historic neglect to our nation's infrastructure, and massive funding needed to fix it:

Because decades of underfunding and inattention have endangered our nation's infrastructure, $2.2 trillion in repairs and upgrades is needed over the next five years to meet adequate conditions. That's the conclusion of ASCE's new 2009 Report Card for America's Infrastructure, released today, which assigns an overall grade of D to the nation as well as individual grades in 15 infrastructure categories. Since ASCE's last assessment in 2005, there has been little change in the condition of America's roads, bridges, drinking water systems, and other public works. With the nation's infrastructure receiving renewed attention from the White House, Congress, and the public as a vital part of an economic stimulus package, the Report Card offers informed guidance from professional engineers on where funds would best be spent.

I would modify that to say "decades of conservatives telling you that 'your money' shouldn't be spent on waste," not "decades of underfunding and inattention," but I like to be specific. The report card is here, and the assessment is stark.

If we're going to both provide a long-term boost to the economy and create a more sustainable and clean energy infrastructure, we're going to need more than $3 billion dollar amendments. We need to create a National Infrastructure Bank to ensure attention is paid to this crucial sector over time. And we need to use the transportation fund and rework the formula, so that more than 20 cents on the dollar from the fund goes to transit. There are a host of things we can do, and I think the progressive movement is learning how to do it.

Postscript: Just to clarify, in reference to Digby's earlier post: I'm not sold that the stimulus will work like a charm, I was assessing what some other people were saying about it. I heard Dean Baker this morning say it's good but not enough, which is a real problem, especially given this new information about PAYGO. Ultimately it will be judged not on its bipartisanshi but its perceived effectiveness, so now would be the time to make sure the damn thing works.

One bite at the apple would be very bad. The thing about PAYGO, though, is that the biggest champion of it in the Congress, probably, is Russ Feingold. In one sense PAYGO can restrict progressive spending; in another it can force taxes on millionaires. I believe there was a vote last year where substantial amounts of Blue Dogs in fact voted for taxes on millionaires. So I'm not totally freaked out by that... yet.