Schumer Proposes $6.5B More for Transit in Senate Stim Bill

Senator Chuck Schumer has unveiled an amendment to the Senate stimulus bill that would increase transit funding by $6.5 billion — to $14.9 billion overall. This would direct $2.9 billion more to transit, in total, than the House stimulus bill that passed last week. For the wonks out there, transit funding would break down like so, if the amendment is adopted: $10.4 billion for capital grants, $2 billion for rail modifications, and $2.5 billion for new starts. From the press release issued by Schumer and Congressman Jerrold Nadler:

Schumer and Nadler said the capital pot must grow to reflect out-of-control capital costs for transit systems, “rail mod” is important for aging rail systems, of which New York has many and more money for New Starts is important to projects like East Side Access and 2nd Ave subway, as well as NJ ARC.

This amendment would be a significant improvement over the current bill; we’ll keep you posted on how you can support it. And it’s good to see Schumer, whose standing in his party has grown considerably thanks to his years helming the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, make transit funding an issue in the stimulus debate.

One thing that’s missing here is operating assistance, which got shot down in the House when an amendment proposed by Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio stalled before reaching committee. The additional funding from Schumer’s amendment would ease some pressure on strained transit agencies, but with service cuts looming in dozens of cities across the country, straphangers need more direct assistance to stave of fare hikes and keep their buses and trains running.

  • Avi

    This is supposed to be a stimulus bill. Construction is stimulus. Helping agencies run trains isn’t. Helping transit agencies might be important during a financial crisis, but that still doesn’t make it stimulus.

  • Ian Turner

    Avi,

    You need to explain this further. Why does the hiring of construction workers constitute stimulus, but not the hiring of bus drivers?

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Schumer and Nadler said the capital pot must grow to reflect out-of-control capital costs for transit systems.”

    Giving the contractors more money because they are overcharging you? I thought we only did that with the health care industry.

    In any event, capital costs have been out of control because transit agencies and other public projects were piling on to a private sector construction boom. The result was massive over-runs.

    The private boom, and construction employment, are going to crash as soon as buildings already coming out of the ground are finished. Were the government to insist on a better deal from construction companies and unions and keep spending, a far better deal could be had.

    Unfortunately, the practice is for the government to cut funding for construction right when the price goes down and construction workers need the work. Over and over.

  • anon

    Any government spending putting additional money into the economy can be considered ‘stimulus’. It is irrelevant if it is construction or unemployment benefits or tax cuts.

    Granted, some of these measures have greater multiplying effects for each dollar spent. But there is no inherent short-term economic preference of funding capital budgets instead of operating budgets.

  • Think of the ‘stimulus’ this way, Avi: An additional $850BN is about to be created from thin air and inserted into the economy via specific avenues. Who _gets_ the ‘free’ new money is a function of who can persuade the Congress to give it to them.

    Saying the stimulus is about construction (for instance) is just saying that construction contractors have convinced Congress that they deserve a bunch of the money.

    As far as Congress is concerned, this is honest-to-Christ trickle-down economics. You pour money in to corporations who lobby successfully; you hope that they spend it on salaries and materials.

    Only this time the Republicans can’t cry foul that That’s Our Money They’re Spending. Because it isn’t. It’s new, fake money.

    Which will inflate the currency, thereby effing my generation and my children. But I digress.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Effing my generation and my children.”

    Exactly. It’s all borrowed money. Shouldn’t someone get something for it 20 years from now when they are accepting diminished public services and benefits and higher taxes to pay it back?

    I get the feeling that elected officials of both parties are giddy that they have an excuse to run up debt and not give a damn about younger generations, as opposed to not giving a damn without the excuse.

  • sarah

    Are operating costs not sexy enough? Keeping up with maintenance on buses and trains, hiring enough operates to meet demand… Development and construction is important but when we’re talking about stimulating the economy, hiring people and keeping up with or expanding schedules is something that can be done tomorrow.

    Too bad we don’t have a ‘underemployed people trying to make a living’ lobby to muscle some money into projects that be the most effective in the short term.

  • J

    Rail lines generally have significantly lower operating costs than buses. By pumping money into starter rail lines and older rail infrastructure, we are, in a small way, encouraging systems with lower operating costs.

    That said, I definitely that operating subsidies are necessary as ridership booms.

  • While this Schumer thing is great… I’m incredibly worried that the Senate is going to be taking the axe to the bill and chopping anything meaningful for the future out of it. anon is essentially right that it doesn’t matter how you spend it but not fully right. A $500 tax rebate doesn’t help the economy as much if I only spend $250 of it. And if I spend that $250 on Barbies then it helps give someone a job (overseas, which bothers some people, but not me, particularly) but what it doesn’t do is give us something of worth in the future. Spending that same $500 for a construction worker gives someone a job and gives us something we will be able to use in the future to help our economy. If I had my way we’d have very limited tax cuts, a lot more infrastructure spending based on a targeted and well thought out “plan for the future” including halving the number of bridges and roads in disrepair, giving incentives for “greening” roads by adding transit / BRT over them when they are repaired/upgraded and then direct assistance to transit systems and oversight for capital expansion which conforms with the national plan. I am seriously having nightmares that we’ll end up with at $900 billion bill which puts generations into debt and leaves us with nothing tangible in the future.

  • DJB

    Good, let’s ramp up transit funding. Let’s just make sure it doesn’t only go to a few cities on the east coast. Los Angeles has tons of shovel-ready transit projects, that, according to my reading of the transit funding formula in HR1, would be un- or under-funded in this bill.

    It’s time to share.

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