Angie Schmitt
Streetsblog

Bill Targets Federal Transit and Bike Funding

Some Republicans want to end all funding for transit, biking, pedestrian improvements, with huge impact on Wisconsin.

By , Streetsblog - Nov 20th, 2013 11:26 am
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Breakdown of Wisconsin's federal transportation funds for 2011-13. $76 million in transit funds would be in jeopardy under this proposal. Click image to enlarge.

Breakdown of Wisconsin’s federal transportation funds for 2011-13. $76 million in transit funds would be in jeopardy under this proposal. Click image to enlarge.

Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Congressman Tom Graves (R-Georgia) have introduced a bill to eliminate federal involvement in transportation policy, which would spell disaster for funding that supports transit, biking, and walking. A largely symbolic vote in favor of “devolution” will allow Republican members of Congress to demonstrate their conservative bona fides.

The Transportation Empowerment Act (TEA)  is sponsored by 21 lawmakers, all Republicans. The Hill reports that the arch-conservative Heritage Action group will be scoring lawmakers on how they vote. The bill would reduce the federal gas tax from 18.4 cents per gallon to 3.7 cents over five years and turn all spending decisions over to state governments.

Heritage Foundation writer Emily Goff, in her report on TEA, specifically notes that the bill would decimate dedicated funds for transit, biking, and walking projects. Heritage sees that as a big plus:

Under the current highway bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, at least 25 percent of authorized funding for FY 2013 was diverted to non-general purpose roads and bridges. Transit, the largest diversion, received $8.5 billion, or 17 percent, of authorized funds. Other diversions include $809 million authorized for the transportation alternatives program (TAP), which pays for bicycle and nature paths, sidewalks, and community preservation activities, none of which reduce congestion or improve mobility for the motorists paying for them.

Federal funding by transportation mode in Wisconsin. For example, 81% of bicycle/pedestrian funds spent in Wisconsin come from federal sources. Click image to enlarge.

Federal funding by transportation mode in Wisconsin. For example, 81% of bicycle/pedestrian funds spent in Wisconsin come from federal sources. Click image to enlarge.

Heritage remains oddly silent on the massive subsidies that pay for roads. Nor do they seem to notice the enormous, wasteful boondoggles perpetuated routinely by states.

And Heritage doesn’t seem convinced that making transportation systems more efficient in the nation’s economic hubs, lowering the death toll from nearly 34,000 traffic fatalities per year, and reducing dependence on fossil fuels are in the national interest. Your state might not lie along a major freight corridor, but freight bottlenecks and delays cost all of us.

Conservative lawmakers have been trying unsuccessfully to enact devolution since the mid-1990s. But House Transportation Committee Chair Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) has made it his mission to persuade even the most conservative of Republicans that the founding fathers and free-market thinkers including Adam Smith intended a strong federal role in transportation — and he intends to keep it that way.

This story originally ran on Streetsblog. Angie Schmitt is a newspaper reporter-turned planner/advocate who manages the Streetsblog Network from glamorous Cleveland, Ohio. She also writes about urban issues particular to the industrial Midwest at Rustwire.com.

Categories: Streetsblog

3 thoughts on “Streetsblog: Bill Targets Federal Transit and Bike Funding”

  1. “… reduce the federal gas tax from 18.4 cents per gallon to 3.7 cents over five years…”

    So unavoidably the money to states would have to be cut as well as transit and alternatives…seems we took federal highway dollars for the Hoan and the Zoo because we could…but didn’t take the Medicaid money because we couldn’t be sure the feds would keep their commitment…well Gov. Walker…it looks like your friends in DC won’t keep this commitment either.

  2. Chris Jacobs says:

    What fails to be mentioned that is in the Hill article is:

    During the same time period, the bill would transfer authority over federal highways and transit programs to states and replace current congressional appropriations with block grants. Yes, replace

    Senator Lee mentions:
    “Under the Transportation Empowerment Act, Americans would no longer have to send significant gas-tax revenue to Washington, where sticky-fingered politicians, bureaucrats, and lobbyists take their cut before sending it back with strings attached,” Lee said.
    “Instead, states and cities could plan, finance, and build better-designed and more affordable projects,” he continued. “Local communities should finally have the flexibility to develop the kind of transportation system they want, for less money, without politicians and special interests from other parts of the country telling them how, when, what, and where they should build.”

    All this bill would end up doing is eliminate the red tape and inefficiency that the federal government involves on the federal level. For those who want regional control, this should be a good thing.

  3. Travis W says:

    Chris Jacobs, Yes, it would eliminate the “red tape” you cite in the transfer of funding methods to the state. But, the Federal government will still pocket that 3.7 cents for only five years and then what? Nothing there to replace it. That sounds all good in theory about the conservative mantra of less taxs, less spending. Yet, there is a BIG BUT coming.

    The Federal 18.4 cents/ga tax has not been adjusted since Bush I. Transportation funding across the board is woefully behind to keep up with just maintenance costs of infrastructure. Let alone reconstruction and new construction to improve the bottlenecks we see currently. So what will the states be forced to do? Raise a gas tax per gallon that will exceed the current amount by a large percentage AND match it to inflation to keep up the times.

    This TEA bill, aptly named after the Tea Party crazies, will do nothing to assist those paying for gas at the pump and in fact hurt them further. Additionally, our poorly rated transportation infrastructure will only get worse. Take a look at how much not only states but counties and municipalities RELY on those federal funds to do the most basic of transportation upkeep. it is a MASSIVE portion of their budget that would not be replaced easily by any local funding source wheich Sen. Lee seems to dream is available.

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