House Transportation Bill: Don't Think it Can’t Get Worse...
“Don’t think it can’t get any worse, because it can.” Flip Saunders, former Washington Wizards head coach, said that just before getting fired after starting 2-15 in this year’s NBA season. He might as well have been talking about the transportation bill being rammed through the House of Representatives by Republican leadership.
Earlier this week House Republicans unveiled their 5-year transportation bill, which would eviscerate our nation’s bedrock environmental review laws, eliminate dedicated funding for biking and walking infrastructure, cut funding for Amtrak, and allow traditional highway widening projects to qualify for funds meant to improve air quality and reduce congestion.
To add insult to injury, House Republicans aim to pay for part of their bad transportation policy by drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, off Florida’s Gulf coast and everywhere in between. Indeed, the bills passed yesterday by the House Natural Resources committee read like a wish list for Big Oil.
That’s bad, but you guessed it, it gets worse. This morning, the House Ways and Means Committee announced that it would consider their title, which provides the funding structure for the transportation bill. Historically the federal gas tax has been split between highway and transit, with the vast majority going to highways, a deal which was struck during the Reagan administration. The bill released by the Ways and Means would upset decades of agreement, putting all gas tax and drilling revenues towards highways, then paying for transit out of the general fund.
In practical terms, this is a cynical attempt to push public transit off the rails. By supporting public transit with money from the Treasury’s general fund, House Republicans are throwing transit into the ring to compete with all other national funding priorities, jeopardizing its historically consistent stream of funding.
As each part of the House transportation bill is released, it is increasingly clear that House Republicans are intent on delivering a sweetheart deal to Big Oil, not seriously legislating. Fortunately, today the Senate Banking committee is considering the transit title of their transportation bill, which is a step forward for transit and supported on a bipartisan basis.
The House transportation bill is extremely bad, but being written by the most anti-environmental Congress in history, don’t think for a second it can’t get worse.
-- Jesse Prentice-Dunn, Associate Washington Rep for the Sierra Club Green Transportation Campaign