Congress Finance

The New Congress Makes Its Claim on the Budget

» A compromise on the budget signals that the White House is not fully committed to an expansion in infrastructure investment.

The agreement between Republicans and Democrats last Friday kept the federal government from shutting down for a short period, but it did not provide for longer-term fiscal stability in Washington nor did it do anything to tone down the increasingly shrill complaints from conservatives over the size of the national budget.

One thing it did indicate, though, was that of all federal funding commitments, those that affect cities most directly — in transportation and urban development — are most likely to be cut. Of the $2 billion pulled from the nation’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget last week, every cent was taken from either the Department of Transportation or the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Once final decisions are made for the rest of the year’s budget, and once discussions begin on the 2012 budget, matters could be even worse.

With House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) leading the charge, U.S. funding for urban priorities are likely to see the brunt of fiscal cutbacks, thanks to the GOP’s unwillingness to raise taxes or cut military spending — and the Democratic Party’s general lack of courage in proposing to do so (despite, after all, continuing to control both the Senate and the White House). Mr. Ryan’s budget, which has been panned as actually likely to increase the budget deficit whatever its putative aims, would eliminate all spending on high-speed rail and even the New Starts transit capital program, which is one of the only major federal transportation programs that actually uses merit-based measures to evaluate alternative investments.

Compared to the Obama Administration’s budget, the Ryan proposal would reduce transportation expenditures by a startling 55.6%, more than any other part of the budget. As I have described before, there is nothing particularly surprising about the Republican insistance on reducing spending on urban-focused programs: The Democratic Party has a virtual monopoly on urban congressional districts, so when it is not in power, those areas suffer.

A caveat: Much of the funds cut last week, including $1.5 billion for high-speed rail (leaving $1 billion in place), had yet to be obligated and thus arguably were not “cuts.” Another $280 million in New Starts money was eliminated, but those funds were supposed to go to the ARC Tunnel, which was cancelled. And the Administration’s proposed budget was never final, so making comparisons to it may be an unfair exercise.

But the point remains: Despite President Obama’s proposals for a huge increase in transportation funding in February, the hard-lining of Republicans and the weak response from Democrats is likely to mean a decline in spending whatever the need. Even as the President has called for a vast investment in the nation’s roads and railways, Republicans are convinced that the country must remain “within its means,” which in their opinion means keeping federal transportation investments within the bounds of revenues collected by the Highway Trust Fund.

U.S. national spending on surface transportation has in recent years increased to about $50 billion annually. Relying on the Trust Fund alone would reduce that to about $30 billion. There is no reason to believe that Republicans will soon agree to a deal that would increase the fuel tax or that would institute some new form of financing, such as a vehicle-miles traveled fee. Nor will many Democrats, who are already worried about their prospects for election in 2012. The fact that alternatives exist that would increase federal investments in the nation’s infrastructure and that would reduce annual budget deficits has not made much of a dent on the right-wing atmosphere that is choking Washington.

If appropriate decisions were made about how to distribute those funds, that might be acceptable in the short term, as there are some transportation projects that are simply a waste of funds. Yet the conservative insistence on reducing government spending is not a long-term solution for funding mobility, as states and cities are cash-strapped and the private sector, whatever its merits, does not have the investment power to finance the nation’s transportation system (nor should it). Moreover, a reduction in overall transportation spending with Republican control over Congress seems likely to mean mostly a reduction in spending on things that you and I care about, like public transportation.

Unwilling to actually make an argument in favor of a tax increase, Senators and Congresspeople have been falling over themselves to endorse Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s American Fast Forward program, essentially a national version of L.A.’s 30/10 scheme. The effort would use federal guarantees to leverage private funds and pay for projects now with future tax revenues. That may sound good for this year and next, but it does not mean more transportation spending in the long-term.

There are few ways to see the budget compromise as a positive step. So far, it has made a mockery of the idea that the government’s role is to invest in the nation’s future through improved infrastructure. And it suggests that the Democrats, from the President on down, are unwilling to stand up for the public sector’s important place in guaranteeing an equitable and appropriate distribution of resources.

Update, 12 April: The newest information from the U.S. House Appropriations Committee shows that there will be no funding at all for high-speed rail in Fiscal Year 2011. In addition, $400 million in money allocated last year will be rescinded. Though the TIGER program remains in place (with funding of $528 million). Another detail: Federal Transit Administration capital investment will be reduced from FY 2010 levels by $680 million.

Image above: Rail yards in Washington, D.C., from Flickr user takomabibelot (cc)

142 replies on “The New Congress Makes Its Claim on the Budget”

The US has a political System that attempts to ensure that rural areas are not overpowered by more populated cities. But now the land rules, and is waging a war on the cities.

I really hope the left throws out Obama and the other complacent Democrats for being… complacent and caving into all the Republicans’ demands.
Seriously. Both budgets are a joke, but the Republican’s one is especially so.
They’ll cut everything on the domestic side yet we’ll still go bankrupt.
(This is what Ron Paul warned us about when the new congress took office)

Most of the reasons why I don’t like Obama is because he’s too much like a neocon.

No standing president who’s been seriously primaried has gone on to win their next election (look at Ford and Reagan, Carter and Kennedy)—it’s not just a coincidence or political superstition, but also a matter of expending resources you don’t need to and exposing divisions with your political party. A primary challenge to Obama is a dream come true to whoever wins the Republican nomination, and near-certain defeat in terms of infrastructure investment.

This budget, as I see it, seems to keep things more or less static with regards to transportation funding. I don’t think it’s enough, but transportation’s fared far better than a lot of other worthy programs.

And nobody significantly better than Obama can be nominated in that contest.

The target for those to the left of Eisenhower/Obama would be below the Presidential ticket, to shift the balance of power within the Democratic caucus. Primarying Democrats who adopt Deficit Errorist positions in the face of massive unemployment or support Obama’s Dead-End Power Strategy with its reliance on Drill Baby Drill, Natural Gas, Nukes and “Clean Coal” would be the way to proceed, with all eyes on the Presidential contest.

Well, as I say this Obama is the only declared candidate but I can hardly wait until the field in the Republican Party takes shape. I find it rather strange that no Republican is officially in the running yet. Usually the opposition party fields a ton of candidates for nomination in the beginning and then they gradually drop out one by one until convention time when he last one left is basically rubber stamped for the fall election. The absolute worst thing for the Democrats to have happen to them next year would be to have a major challenger to Obama. I suspect that the Republicans might be plotting to have as few a tiny field from the start to try to take the White House next year.

A political party cannot “plot” the size of the field in the modern system. It can have its preferences, and can try to have a marginal influence, but in the end its a matter of individual political entrepreneurship.

Its just a not very enticing prospect to run as crazy as necessary to win the primary given the tea party component of the electorate and the outlandish expectations of the Koch Bros. et all who push their buttons, and then take that baggage into the general election.

Reagan was primaried seriously by Pat Robertson. Have you forgotten? Yes, yes, you have. This “primaries make President lose” bullshit is nothing but bullshit, and if you go back to the 19th century, you can even find primary opponents who actually won the general election. Primaries are a symptom of a President who’s in troulbe, not a cause.

More evidence that the radical Repugnican agenda and Obama’s inexplicably weak-kneed capitulation to it will further decimate our teetering infrastructure, and resign our global economic competitiveness to laughing stock status. Sad, sad, sad…

If Obama had not spent such massive amounts of money on so many things, Paul Ryan never would had had a chance to propose his budget in order to reduce the spending. It was the excessive spending that caused the potentially disastrous cuts in transportation.

You’re making the (naive, IMO) assumption that the Republican drive to cut federal spending wouldn’t have been there irrespective of the ARRA; frankly, anyone with a political memory that goes back to the Clinton administration knows that the constant refrain of “cut spending to reign in the deficit” has been a consistent element of Republican electioneering and governance for at least 20 years.

Whether or not it’s good practice I will set aside, as that isn’t the point being addressed here.

That refrain was noticably absent ten years ago. Back then, it was “lower taxes will boost productivity leading to increased government revenues”. Yeah, right.

No matter what the problem is, lower taxes will fix it. Economy is overheated, lower taxes will help. Economy is in the doldrums if not a depression, lower taxes will fix it. Martians invade, lower taxes will fix it.,….

Meh. The major non-military spending during the Bush administration was Medicare Part D, which seemed a transparent attempt to buy the votes of seniors. I don’t recall particulars, but my vague (and quite possibly very incorrect) memories are, outside of a few White House-backed initiatives, of the Republican-dominated Congress maintaining the general policies of the ’90’s Congress, which involved reduced spending in a number of areas.

You’ve forgotten Bush’s massive “Department of Homeland Security” bureacracy, which actually cost quite a lot. Including the TSA, which was established to replace private security companies, in an odd admission that government can do some things better than privatization.

Stop repeating Republican BS, Chris. Obama didn’t “spend massive amounts of money on so many things”. There was the stimulus package, which was simply an attempt to avoid economic disaster, and wasn’t nearly large enough according to the best economists (Christy Romer). There was TARP, which was Bush’s scheme. And mostly, there were MASSIVE TAX CUTS dating from Bush’s era which led to the deficit.

The deficit was caused primarily by Bush’s tax cuts (and earlier, by Reagan’s) and can be fixed only by tax increases (as it was under Clinton, who generated a surplus). Stop peddling Republican lies. Bush, in contrast, presided over one of the largest increases in government employment and spending ever; unfortunately it was almost all useless “War on Terror” bullshit.

“To ensure that this debate does not become a fight over the influence of the stimulus on the federal debt, I encourage everyone to consider that I’m right, you’re wrong, republicans are evil, it doesn’t matter that our federal spending projections are absolutely insane and getting worse every year in the future, because we can reduce it down to simpleton graphs that show that 8 years of a republican was worse than two years of the current guy.”

Yonah, you have a great and informative blog…But you really need to cut the partisan BS. It does absolutely nothing to advance your cause. You are merely advancing the ridiculous blame game, which might be good enough to get you elected, but not good enough to actually change anything.

Danny, I understand your complaint and I will take it into account as I write future posts. I don’t think that describing my commentary as “partisan BS” is fair at all, however, considering that I followed almost every one of my comments about the GOP in this post with criticisms of the Democratic Party.

This seems to be an effort to avoid the fact that the bulk of the debt that is actual net obligations by government was run up under Republican administrations by calling any recognition of that fact “partisan BS”.

Trying to avoid the facts by calling the recognition of the facts “partisan BS” is, of course, on variety of partisan BS.

And its easy to see why you engage in that kind of partisan BS, since according to Yonah, you have succeeded in browbeating him into carefully inserting a criticism of the Democrats after every criticism of the Republicans.

There are two problems with the partisan blame game: Factual and Political.

The factual problem with the partisan blame game is that in order for it to hold true from a historical perspective, you have to make extreme leaps to connect the republicans/democrats of yesterday with those of today. For example, Republicans were the ones that issued the emancipation proclamation, and they were also the ones who resisted the most when it came to the civil rights act. Democrats were the ones who deregulated the airlines, trucking industry, and railroads, and now they are the ones trying to reregulate them, and every other industry while they are at it. And when it comes to comparing administrations or congresses, you can’t do anything but compare on a historical basis, which means you can’t do anything but lump people into groups that don’t fit anymore.

But the political problem with the blame game is that from a policy perspective, it accomplishes nothing. It polarizes opposition when there can be common ground. Republicans/Libertarians can be convinced that public transportation infrastructure is beneficial to society…I know this because I have been convinced, and I know multiple other urban conservatives that have as well.

The article that Yonah posted is a pure example of this. We could argue all day long about the facts, because his graph only shows 2 years of Obama’s presidency. If you were to include federal expenditure projections from the CBO, you would see very clearly that in the same 8 years time, Obama will have completely outspent Bush. And petulant BS like that will devolve into more petulant BS…and at the end of the conversation you will have two groups of people that hate each other even more and are even less willing to try to understand each other.

In terms of advancing a policy agenda, what really matters is the policy, not the fuzzily defined group of people that seem to be stopping progress at the moment.

How about this for example: “It doesn’t matter if you think we need to spend less or spend more as a nation at the moment, because one of the worst areas to cut right now is urban infrastructure, because of the amount of essential commerce activity that is supported by that infrastructure.”


You were scoring a few points until you went off-track with this statement, “If you were to include federal expenditure projections from the CBO, you would see very clearly that in the same 8 years time, Obama will have completely outspent Bush.”

No one can accurately forecast an 8 year Obama’s budget because we don’t know the sentiment of Congress to initiate & craft legislation that Obama (if reelected) would veto or approve. Although we should question his resolve to fight for essential transportation infrastructure in the short term, at least we know:

* he’s not telling lies to unilaterally march us into another trillion dollar ground war over oil
* he is the first president in a long time to propose cutting wasteful defense
* he is the first president in a long time to propose cutting oil company tax breaks
* he tried to raise taxes on the wealthy back to Clinton era levels, but Congressional Democrats let him down
* he is using many tools to lower short term unemployment

Even though Republicans disagree with the former items, they do help balance the budget or keep it under control. Obama may not be greatest president for our long term economic health, be he easily outclasses the budget-busting Bush-Cheney fiasco.

It’s no coincidence that all four of the governors that have cancelled rail projects are Republicans. Republicans generally have had strong antipathy toward rail and public transit. That isn’t “partisan BS” — it’s just the facts.

Yet, when it comes to Intercity rail, Amtrak had the biggest cuts when Carter and Clinton were in office.

1) Carter’s administration began more than 30 years ago; I can’t speak to what the political climate was during that time, but I’d be comfortable saying that it’s likely not relevant to the discussion at hand to make this comparison.
2) Clinton had a Republican-majority House of Representatives (the body tasked by the constitution with originating budgetary bills), so to casually imply that there’s a causal link between his administration and the reduction in Amtrak funding without even mentioning that is lazy.

The Bush administration initially zeroed out capital spending and proposed zeroing out operating subsidies for Amtrak.

But its a mistake to confuse the politics of Amtrak and the politics of local transport spending, since the politics of Amtrak includes large numbers of rural flagstops that have no ready access to an airport, and neither a stop by nor a prospect of a stop by a regular intercity coach service.

Its a lot easier for a Senator from North Dakota or Montana to support slashing some component of local transport funding that typically is focused on larger cities, than to support slashing Amtrak operating subsidies and losing the Empire Builder. Ditto West Virginia and the Cardinal.

So it was a bipartisan coalition in the Senate, with a large platform founded on the big “NEC caucus” to be sure, but also including Senators from states like Montana and North Dakota and West Virginia and Kentucky, that knocked back the proposal to zero out Amtrak operating subsidies and was able to gradually increase capital funding over the Bush years.

Actually, it’s more that liberals have a factual bias—from what I’ve seen conservatives and libertarians tend to operate more from a faith in their axioms (e. g. deregulation always works, taxation is always bad, &c.), whereas American liberalism has been more adaptive to the situation at hand.

I don’t think this is an absolute state of affairs by any means, but I don’t see conservatism changing anytime soon. It’s pretty difficult for political parties to get unstuck from their ideological ruts—after all, at the beginning of the last century the Democrats spent twelve years trying to make William Jennings Bryan president.

Danny, you need to cut the partisan BS. The problem is that the so-called Republican “position” in this case — their lies about the deficit — are just wrong. The NYT article cites the facts, you deny them.

Denial is ugly.

Based on the NY Times graph, it’s pretty clear that the budget hardball played in raising the debt ceiling should actually be commitment to ending the wars and repealing tax cuts for the wealthiest. But ironically, the Tea Party would likely fight tax rates and defense costs mirroring the Reagan years.

Progressive Capitalist, you hit the nail on the head. Everyone can see from the NYTimes article that we have a national deficit problem. But If deficit reduction were really paramount to Republican (Ruralists) interests, they would also demand Defense reductions and higher tax on the wealthy. Rather than do what’s best for our nation, they argue:

1) We must continue wasting Defense money (in their districts) building weapons for the types of enemies who no longer exist.
2) If we raise taxes on people earning over say $300K/year (higher than Clinton-era levels), it will slow down the recovery. As I recall the recovering economy did pretty well during the Clinton years.

Of course both Republican arguments are nonsense, and they’ll never given Clinton economic policy credit. That said, due to the deficit, more budget items need to freeze or be cut for lower debt and long term economic growth. So if Republicans really more long term economic growth and lower debt, why won’t they acknowledge proven methods already on the table.

They could agree with Democrats to freeze Transportation and Energy budgets at 2010-level, then shift more more funds from freeway expansion and oil company tax breaks over to HSR, Rapid Transit, Renewable Energy and Smart Grid development. Those measures will create hundreds of thousands of jobs to sustain the economic recovery, significantly reduce the trade deficit from importing oil and send the right signals to our automakers and the public on which cars to build and buy going forward.

From the $77B/year Transportation budget, Congress could lower the $47B spent on HIghways to $35B simply by cutting out the “fake” freeway congestion relief projects. I’m also convinced that the $16B spent on Aviation can be safely reduced to $14.5B, if only because HSR improvements would reduce regional flights — the least fuel efficient flights. That would permit a budget-neutral increase in Transit from $9B to $18B/year and HSR from $2.5B to $8B/year. Something similar could be done with budget-neutral shifts in Energy investment.

Today is America consuming 5.1B barrels of oil/year for Transportation with oil costing just over $100/barrel. It will likely cost $200/barrel by 2020 as many HSR, Rapid Transit, Renewable Energy and Smart Grid projects COULD complete and Electric & Hybrid Cars replace more Oil Cars. Even with projected population growth by 2020, those developments I suggest could cut 2B barrels of oil/year, enabling America to keep an extra $400 Billion circulating in our economy. And each dollar spent on the HSR, Rapid Transit, Renewable Energy and Smart Grid circulates 5-6 times longer than a dollar spent overseas Defending (“policing”) the Middle East.

Whenever the looming fiscal crisis comes up, Republicans like to redirect the conversation to Social Security and Medicaid, but they never acknowledge the above Sustainable Transportation and Energy solutions on the table. To do so, would lead the media to question why they won’t compromise with the Democrats to actually solve multiple problems faced by our nation. Until Republicans do, I conclude they are in the hip pocket of oil companies.

There is a big freeway project in West Vriginia and Vriginia called the Coalfields Expressway which they could easy cut in that it’s going to cost five billion dollars to build a four lane wide greeway though the wastelands blasted a part by former coal mine strip mines in West Vriginia.

But, without the greenway, how are people going to get to the golf courses promised as the remediation for blowing the crap out of the mountain tops? And without the golf courses doing a thriving business, suddenly putting all that toxic crap in the headwaters of so many watersheds no longer looks like a good deal.

I’d say that when you consider as a whole these spending cuts combined with the extension of the Bush tax cuts, you have an opportunity for states and cities to come in and raise taxes that will allow for better transit projects more responsive to local needs and interests. Cuts in federal transportation spending don’t have to be cuts in total transportation spending, if politicians on lower levels of government are committed to it.

That doesn’t make any sense. How does the extension of the Bush tax cuts for billionaires “have an opportunity for states and cities to come in and raise taxes”?

Sure, NY could raise its income tax on billionaires, as could California, but very few other states could — the billionaires can always move across state lines, though studies show they won’t give up living in NYC no matter what the tax rates — and NO cities can do it, they don’t have the income taxation power.

Well, some would argue that the historic refusal by the Canadian federal government to pay for transit infrastructure improvements (a policy that has changed in the past few years) has partly been responsible for the much better financial situations of Canadian transit systems, who have been forced to rely more on fares and local and provincial support than their American counterparts. If the federal government was not involved with transit capital projects then we would not have to waste money on extremely low ridership projects like the Austin and Nashville commuter trains or the Norfolk light rail line. States like New York and California would be committed to transit, and if you would prefer to spend your money on gasoline as you cruise through the sprawl you could move to Oklahoma or Indiana.

Chris, I don’t know how much Canada spends on highways, but the US federal government has subsidized interstate highways and urban freeways for years, at an 80% match to local and state funds.

Without the federal funds for transit capital projects (which usually only get a 50% match), most states and cities would have realized that highways were a better deal. Why spend your own money on transit when 80% of the costs of a highway would be paid by the feds?

Now, if Canada makes localities pay the whole costs of highways as well, they may have something. But I doubt that drivers are made to pay the full cost of driving.

The Canadian federal government isn’t really in the highway business. The provinces do it, as a result of which there’s no uniform national network like the Interstates, just freeways where urban areas and provinces plop them. This makes it easier to build transit, if there’s consensus behind it. Calgary has very few freeways, since the city chose light rail as its primary form of high-capacity transportation back in the 1970s. Vancouver has more freeways, but not in the city proper, again reflecting an early decision to not look like Los Angeles.

i wouldn’t call the Tide so much a waste as a whole. the way the HRT (Hampton Roads Transit) leaders went about, yeah that was stupid indeed. but in truth, the Hampton Roads Region (including Norfolk) needs mass transit. but it’s another case of political leaders having a crab in a crab pot mentality. as a citizen of this area i can tell u first hand we’ve been in dying need of rapid/mass transit. but again unfortunately the development of the entire region is that of a MC Ecsher painting, so getting approval, let alone funding isn’t easy.

We’ve seen some of the people building that rail line and they have done some really shotty work on it and have had to rip out the tracks out of the streets several times already. While at the same time there are still streetcar tracks in some southern cities that are at least 70 years old and they are still in good shape. What Hampton Roads should have done is fired the constractors building the thing and highered someone else in that in this resscesion Hampton Roads would have had bids around the block from other people.

Sure, take the Federal government out of all transportation, ending all subsidies, including highways and aviation. If that were the case, private sector would invest in rail. For transit, you would find more localized solutions. And as bitter-sweet irony (given the anti-“socialism” rhetoric), rural areas would soon find out just how dependent upon reallocated wealth they truly are.

To your last, it’s sort of true, but there’s no doubt that many rural areas would extract a lot of the money needed to maintain their transportation infrastructure in the form of increased food and energy costs – or perhaps just energy, as a political environment getting the Feds out of transportation might very well get them out of food subsidy and protectionism also. But for most American power plants domestic coal or gas is easily the cheapest option – the infrastructure needed to deliver it to market will find away to support itself. Simply put, the dependency does go both ways.

This blog should be partisan. Only one party consistently supports mass transit and alternative transportation and it sure as hell isn’t the GOP.

Paul Ryan is a bigger threat to this country than Bin Laden. This nutcase wants to end Medicare to pay for even more tax cuts for the rich and corporations. Thousands of people will not get the medical care they need if his budget proposals are enacted.

Transportation should NOT be a partisan issue.

If transit equates with the Democratic Party only, now how far will transit get, especially during periods such as now (with predominantly GOP governments at the state level, and the House) and the 2000s (with a one-party national government for most of the decade)?

What needs to be done is for Republican transit supporters to be louder in the GOP and to stop letting anti-transit voices in the GOP be its only voices.

(Amtrak Pres. Joseph Boardman, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and plenty of others are Republicans.)

(Local transit got plenty of funding during the 2000s from the GOP White House.)

Chris wrote,

(Amtrak Pres. Joseph Boardman, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and plenty of others are Republicans.)

Correction they are old school Republicans, not the recently elected Tea Party nut jobs. These nutjobs in the House of Reps forced Boehner to bend over and touch his toes and they still want to pitchfork him. These nutjob governors even piss of their business supporters (Disney) by turning down grant money for a well-planned transportation project that would first be part of a Florida HSR network, then part of an Interstate HSR Network.

(Local transit got plenty of funding during the 2000s from the GOP White House.)

Do you call $8-9B/year for Transit while Aviation got $15-16B/year and Highways got $44-47B/year plenty? More Highways and Regional Flights help inflate our (oil) trade deficit and foreign oil dependence, while more Transit and HSR reduces the trade deficit, foreign oil and circulates billions more dollars in our economy.

America are in a budget quandry on some items. If we cut investments in education, renewable energy and transportation we can NOT win the trade future vs. China, Japan and European Union. But we can invest the same money smarter. For the Transportation budget, we should either raise the gasoline tax OR scalpel funds from Highways and Aviation to more Transit and HSR.

At the state and metropolitan levels the picture’s more muddied—look at Salt Lake City and Dallas, for example, which are both undertaking expansion programs and are hardly solid-blue metropolises. The same can be said for exurban Chicago, where Kirk and Hastert secured earmarks for Metra expansion. There was also bipartisan opposition to Scott over high-speed rail cancellation. And on the other side of things, a lot of New York Dems have been opposed to bike lanes.

Also, frankly, a more partisan blog would be less fun to read. TTP does a good job of sorting through the ambiguities of transportation and the public sphere, and I prefer to read analysis over cheerleading (even if the cheerleading’s coming from my own side).

You said it well about partisan blogs.

Partisan blogs are too fun for their own good. A policy blog like this doesn’t have to be fun, but that’s OK because the topics are informative and sobering.

Partisan blogging, on the other hand, is like a subsistence diet of junk food. Those blogs enforce closed-loop thinking and gang mentality, don’t have any meaningful action applied to politics, and most “thought” is devoted to hating the other.

To sort this out for everyone: the Republican Party in the US is a coalition of about 3 tendencies, which in Europe would be 3 separate parties – right-wing liberal (e.g. Romney), right-wing populist (the entire Tea Party), and Christian Democratic (e.g. LaHood, or in a more extreme version Huckabee). The Bushes and other corporate conservatives tend to ally with the right-wing liberals in Europe, or, if they’re really strong (Italy, Britain), have a plutocratic party; note how Cheney has absolutely no problems with his daughter’s lesbianism. Cultural conservatives like LaHood are generally quite moderate, and cooperate with both the left and the right.

Now, in both Europe and the US, the right-wing liberal and Christian Democratic traditions are neutral on transportation. They get support from both urban and rural areas, though social democrats and left-liberals get more urban support than they do, and support investment in infrastructure in general. But the right-wing populists are very exurban and rural, and oppose transit for essentially cultural reasons. They identify cars with rural culture and capitalism and transit with environmentalists and socialists.

But the right-wing populists are very exurban and rural, and oppose transit for essentially cultural reasons. They identify cars with rural culture and capitalism and transit with environmentalists and socialists.

More to the point, cities are identified with environmentalism (many rural economies depend on being able to externalize costs via pollution), socialism, and various forms of alleged social decay. A lot of that has to do with who lives in cities (or who is perceived to live there)–both black and wealthy educated whites have a strong urban bias, and both groups are largely disliked by many rural whites.

The fact that most transit agencies are standalone entities, whose subsidies are highly visible, further poisons the well, especially when most patrons are poor. It’s easy to determine the FRR of a given transit agency, note that it is less than 100%, and scream “socialism”. Roadbuilding, OTOH, is generally undertaken in-house by general-purpose governments (states and municipalities), so figuring out just how much of it is “subsidized” is harder to do.

Yes, though I’d argue that it’s to some extent the reverse: socialism and environmentalism are identified with an alien culture, rather than the reverse. Rural populists (though not necessarily the same set as the Tea Party types) can be plenty socialist and environmentalist when it’s homegrown – see for example Minnesota socialism, or protests against mountaintop removal.

Alon, the catch is that in our modern Republican Party (post-2000) the Christian Democrats are being co-opted by Christian Dominionists, the right-wing populists are being controlled by corporatist looters, and the right-wing liberals are being driven out entirely (witness Charlie Crist’s fate).

The party’s on a death spiral. I salute ex-Republicans, but they should get out now. This blog can be non-partisan, but that demands being opposed to the modern Republican leadership, who base their entire policies on lying to their grassroots (as witness, the bullshit Chris bought into earlier in this very comment thread).

I wish Republicans luck in replacing their leadership, but after watching Crist get shoved out, I don’t think you have a chance; you would do better to finish taking over the Democratic Party, which is already full of Christian Democrat and right-wing populist types (and then, with the Republican Party dead the left-wing liberals could go ahead and vote Green or something, and we’d have a healthy political system).

The fact that GOP has become dominated by a wing determined to abandon its responsibility to look after the long term health of the American economy makes it all the more important for the blog to be non-partisan.

Not all Republicans are in that wing, and indeed the commitment by Democrats to looking after the long term health of the American economy is by no means steller, only really shining by comparison to the Republican House.

However, non-partisan does not mean falling for the rhetorical nonsense of “if you do not give equal time and say an equal number of both good and bad things about both parties, you are being partisan”.

Also, note Charlotte- in a successful referendum to keep a sales tax for transit, Republicans were MORE supportive of transit than Democrats (in part because the transit line then under construction led to Republican areas).

(See the top article here:

Yonah Freemark, I give you a lot of credit for running an excellent website and for being informative, but not overtly partisan.

Republican grassroots are very much not the same as Republican national leadership. (Heck, in my area they’re positively socialist — supporting government-run utilities with subsidized cheap prices, for instance.) They really shouldn’t be supporting national Republicans on policy grounds, and I suspect they do so out of habit and cultural allegiance. Republican grassroots need a better national party to vote for.

It is disapointing but atleast we get $1bn to spend on HSR in 2011 budget.

Does anyone know when this money will be allocated, alongside the reallocation of the Florida HSR funds?

> Yonah Freemark, I give you a lot of credit for running an excellent website and for being informative, but not overtly partisan.

I agree.


I’m very socially conservative, but also a big supporter of rail and transit. Therefore, it is absolutely not fun for me to read blatantly pro-democratic propaganda which some other pro-transit websites publish. The Transport Politic really deserves credit for keeping things factual and equilibrated.

I find it a big defect in democracy that people are forced to choose a full package. One can either choose one guy that likes rail and transit, but also supports all kinds of immorality, or you can choose another one which hates rail, but you agree with him in other aspects. None of them really think exactly like me, it seams??? For me a referendum-based democracy would be much better. Just put in a vote, let the people decide if we should fund rail and transit or not.

You’d probably like Switzerland. I’m not sure why it’s the only country which has made referendum-based democracy work.

The referendum democracy in Switzerland works (kind of) because the whole system is designed accordingly. There is, for example, no position where an individual has complete power (such as a governor in the US, for example).

However, the Swiss-style referendum democracy is the most demanding form of government for the individual. It requires the individual to be informed, and to be educated well enough to understand what happens. It also requires a general understanding that “der Staat” (hmmm… interesting, there is no English term for that; “government” does not represent what “der Staat” (in German) or “l’état” (in French) means) is a necessity and that it is per se, and its services are beneficial for everyone.

When it comes to transportation, the Swiss have been in favor of most projects, even if they were not cheap. That’s how the Canton of Zürich (about 700’000 inhabitants; area comparable to all 5 burroughs of New York City) spent several billion Francs for the transit network, and the towns added half of that from their own coffers). But then, one can say that the system is supported by the people (and it is indeed).

Another also transit related feature of the Swiss system is that when something (such as an infrastructure project) is “commited”, it will be part of upcoming budgets, and it can not be taken out of the budgets. This means that the parliament can discuss budget, but it can not butcher down each and every piece.

Thank you for those very interesting details. Particularly the detail that once something is committed, it cannot be backed out on. This is interesting; I understood a lot of the rest of the points regarding the necessary individual *attitude* — deliberately informing oneself and accepting the necessity and the value of the state — already, but I didn’t know that one.

Just recently were the discussions in the Canton of Zürich parliament about the budget. And one must say that the Canton of Zürich has its share of spending cutting parties (but fortunately not that many of the tax cuts nuts). Discussions were possible for about one third of the total budget; the rest of the budget was “dedicated” (which includes not only infrastructure spending, but also personell, social spending etc. at existing levels. That also means that “government” can not be shut down by refusing to agree on a budget.

It looks to me as if this system is also part of the Swiss principle for achieving political stability (which may on the other hand be looked at as “nothing is going to change”.

I don’t want to say that it is a “better” system; it is a different system, whith all of its advantages and disadvantages.

I’m a little skeptical about this aspect of the system, since a similar requirement in California is considered a bad thing. In California, ballot propositions are binding, to the point that about three-quarters of the state’s budget is out of the legislature’s control. Instead of creating consensus, it creates budget crises, since the legislature itself has no reason to govern by consensus. There is an effective two-thirds requirement to pass a budget, which means the SVP Republican minority can torpedo tax increases; as a result, the California Republican Party is very conservative and makes no attempt to appeal to more than one third of the population.

There are fundamental differences, which help the system to work. Keep in mind that Swiss federal and cantonal parliaments have several parties, with none having the absolute majority (there are/were exceptions, but they are getting fewer and fewer). So, coming to an agreement is a crucial part of the system.

On the other hand, in California, there are essentially two parties, which means that one always has the majority, and therefore, agreements are not necessary.

The necessity to find agreements also requires a more pragmatic approach; without that, nothing can be done, and if one party refuses, they will be left out and automatically become the minority. There are things, that minority party can do, such as collecting signatures for invoking a referendum. There are cases where the referendum will overthrow the parliament’s decision, but there are more cases where it won’t.

I refrain from commenting about two-third majority requirements…

The issue in California is somewhat different. In areas with a permanent majority, the debate that would normally be between different parties is instead done between different factions of the same party. Since there’s no real democratic choice, this devolves into a contest between various lobbyists, financiers, and power brokers.

Alon, you may well know this, but the “two party problem” is due to the first-past-the-post system, which is not used by most democratic countries (Duverger’s Law). With any system of party-proportional representation you would get something approximating an open democratic choice among multiple parties. Or if you really love single-member districts, and have found a cure for gerrymandering, approval voting would also lead to a debate between different parties.

The US electoral system is archaic in many ways. Those who study voting systems agree that our first-past-the-post gerrymandered-districts system is among the worst, and probably the worst, among countries with democratic/republican forms of government; if you include the malapportioned US Senate and the Electoral College, it’s demonstrably the worst.

Oh, and of course you know that the 2/3 business in CA is lunatic, and should never have been permitted by the CA Supreme Court (it was a fundamental constitutional revision, not an amendment, in California parlance, and was not subject to being passed by initiative). I’m not sure whether that was ever litigated, but it should have been.

Can you do an article on Baltimore and St. Louis transit expansion plans and use a map for both cities? It would be very cool if you did.

Is that for real? No high speed rail funding at all this year. $400 million taken back from last year and transit is cut by a whopping $991 million while highways get to walk away unharmed?? How could the dems agree to that? Wow president Obama really has no backbone at all. He just totally caved. Sad day for transit advocates.

Does the $991 Million cut from transit mean that no new transit projects will be given the go ahead? I mean that is like half their yearly budget isn’t it?

Travelrobb over on seems to have an alternate take on the plight of HSR in this bill.

You have to remember that from October 1 2010 to April 15 2011 we were still operating on the FY2010 budget by way of continuing resolutions.

Basically, from Oct. 1 to April 8, HSR had been receiving money at the rate of $2.5 billion per year or a prorated $1.346 billion, by way of continuing resolutions. From April 8 to April 15, the final week’s continuing resolution, that rate dropped to $1.0 billion per year, or a prorated $19 million, for a total of $1.365 billion. This bill zeros out HSR for the remainder of FY2011, and takes $400 million out of what was already due to go to HSR based on the continuing resolutions of the FY2010 budget (hence the term “previous year funds”).

That leaves $965 million (the $1 billion we’ve been hearing about) for allocation by FRA in FY2011.

Not sure if he’s right but it kinda makes sense.

If highways are down to the Trust Fund revenues alone, they are going to take a hit as well, since Congress has been topping up the Trust Fund out of the General Fund for some time now.

I wish you were right but I kind of doubt it. This is establishing highway spending as more important than any other kind. I doubt we will see the return of HSR. I also doubt that transit will recover as money collected from the highway trust fund will continue to decline and this establishes the fact that it should go to highways. Amazing that we can continue on this course when faced with $4 gas and global warming. This country seems to be more and more like the Roman empire.

The most ironic part is that vehicle miles traveled is on the decline while transit and rail ridership is on the increase.

High Speed Rail is a good as dead we can kiss it off we had our chance and we blew it big time.

Most of the high speed rail funds out there are locked up in Califoria and they haven’t laid any track or dug any railroad bed so and they haven’t done anything with their funding so that project is as good as dead in that they can now rip out it’s unspent funding money. So good bye high speed rail.

Desertxpress is still clinging to life by a hair in that acroding to those clowns it can’t get it’s guts ripped out by the dimwits in office.

I think they’ve gone a little far to cancel the California High Speed Rail project now, but I would have said the same thing about the New Jersey Hudson River crossing as well. A highway project calling for a new freeway to be built between Palmdale and Victorville in the desert north of Los Angeles could ironically have a beneficial effect on California high speed rail, by providing a convenient and readily available right of way for the Desertxpress high speed train to Las Vegas to come closer to Los Angeles and theoretically continue to Los Angeles along the high speed rail line. I think if we can just hold out long enough for the starter line to be built in the California central valley that the country will be amazed by what it is like and clamor for it everywhere like they are currently doing for light rail

The new Freeway between Palmdale and Victorville could help the desertxpress in that it would plow out a new right of way though everything that needs to be out of it’s way. And they could do some heavy blasting to cut out the deep stright grade that the new high speed rail line needs.

It’s nice and flat between Victorville and Palmdale. No mountains to be blasted not even hills.

If that’s the case then the Desertxpress as soon as they reach Victorville should start building as fast as possible to reach Palmdale and onwards to LA Union Station to have drect Amtrak link ups. Or Amtrak should at least start up a link up bus between LA Union Station with stops in Palmdale and some other major towns along the way and take the people to Victorvile to provide the missing link in the system.

I really do hope if desertxpress is built that they consder to Phonix as their next stop.

They’re still 2 billion for this year’s high-speed rail funding and if the California high-speed rail project gets half of that or even a little more to the 1.2 billion requested then we will be able to finish the entire Central Valley spine. There was a big meeting today in Los Angeles about California high-speed rail if anything this project will really start moving forward in the next 12 months and then the actual bidding will start with funding scenarios. But a lot of the doom and gloom that everyone feels about this budget cut is not the end for high-speed rail

Califorinia keeps getting these vast amounts of money and they keep asking more and more but not a singel railroad tie laid or track laid or not even a shovel full of drit moved. I don’t think they should get anymore in that there is a big risk right now that all the high speed rail funds would be locked up in Califorinia unspent and the clowns in Congress while it’s trapped there could yank it right from under them and we lose it right there and then.

If only the HSR funds had been given to Amtrak only to allocate as it sees fit, in a one-time payout, HSR would have been fine. Now that window of opportunity has definitely closed.

Amtrak had several rocking and rolling projects on their wish list that could have made some very big changes and that would have made some big imrpovements.

I would have thought so 2 years ago, but since then Amtrak has come up with multiple brain-dead ideas, for example to spend $13 billion on its own tunnel under the Hudson. Said tunnel would be easier to construct than ARC – it involves no cavern – but somehow Amtrak’s pricetag is still higher. Even relatively trivial things, like boarding, it totally botches: at South Station, an open station where people board trains freely and leisurely, Amtrak insists on making everyone stand in line and walk to the train single-file.

No cavern under 34th Street but it does involve tearing down a block of Midtown. I suspect just the eminent domain taking will be a well over billion.

But once the south station extension is completed, Amtrak (or NYC) can sell the rights to build above the station which should generate a lot of revenue.

There has been no breakdown of the $13 billion dollar estimate that was listed for the Gateway project as far I know. We don’t know how Amtrak came up with that number. The $13 billion appears to include both the north and south Portal Bridge replacements? NJ Transit as I recall was listing those projects separately. A quick look at the short Amtrak pitch suggests that Moynihan station is part of the project.

I would figure that the idea to extend the No. 7 line east 5 blocks to Penn Station is not part of the cost, because MTA would have to provide that rough estimate.

I forget whether it was Amtrak or the blogosphere that costed the takings at one billion. Excluding that, you’re still looking at a tunnel that (independently of Portal, which is a separate item on Amtrak’s wishlist) is more expensive than NJT’s much more extravagant plan.

I’m sure they are planning do something more elaborate than a slab of asphalt by the side of the tracks. Pity that it won’t have entrances to Penn Station on the north side of 34th Street like ARC would have had.

I really don’t see how this tunnel project can coast 13 billion consdering to build the new eight lane Hampton Roads bridge tunnel will cost under five billion dollars or the 120 mile long Coalfields Expressway will cost five billion dollars. I think if they really wanted to and held some clowns at gun point they could get that cost down to six billion for a new set of tunnels.

The biggest dead on arival plan that Amtrak has come up with is a 113 billion dollar new NEC. The Old NEC is better in that it’s four track’s wide and could be upgraded for far less.

I am wondering if the Dems were ok for FY2011 not being funded because the rejected Florida funds would cover nearly what it was for those states looking for this year about $2.4 Billion, then making a much stronger push in the next budget

any thoughts to that strategy and it’s plausibility ?

No, there are over $9 billion dollars in applications for what was to be $2.43 billion of returned Florida funding. Most of the applications are worthy and $5-$6 billion could put to good use if it were available. The Dems really didn’t go along with it. The deal last Friday was to cut the FY11 HSIPR amount from $2.5 billion which was voted on by the House last fall to $1 billion which was the President’s original request.

I think the cutting to zero for FY2011 and rescission of $400 million from FY10 was the House more right wing Republicans exceeding the terms of the deal, but the Democrats are stuck because they either go along and keep what they can or the whole government shuts down this Friday.

The $2 billion won’t go very far. Figure $570 million for the Portal Bridge replacement, $800 million to $1 billion for CA HSR, that is 2/3rds to 3/4 of the money right there.

What happened here with the high speed money being yanked away form Florida happened exactly how I said it would happen. The high speed rail project funds where locked up all in one place and the Repubilcains came in and sat on that egg basket of high speed rail funds while the high speed rail line builders did nothing to break ground or do anything. Now the secound egg basket that will now get smashed to peices will be Califorinia High Speed Rail system and with that all atempts at high speed rail will be dead in the US.

I wouldn’t mind if the goverment shut down for a few days think of all the money it would save if it was closed down for say a week with all those offices and workers on break for a week.

They don’t have a teabagger Republican governor in California to do the smashing ~ they have a Democratic governor who proposed HSR for California in the 1980’s.

There will certainly be some higgling and haggling that will cause IHS ~ Internet Hyperventilation Syndrome ~ but the Illinois projects are going ahead, the Washington projects are going ahead, the effort by the NC teabaggers in the legislature to trip up the NC projects was shown the door … there will be ground broken in multiple places around the country by November 2012.

Califoinia’s state goverment could be pro rail but now the clowns in office are going to make some attacks on it and there really is no one to stand up to them.

NC’s rail project most likely lived do to that state has a very strong railroad history along those sections of rail lines in that there where 100 mile on hour trains on it in the 1960’s.

Ocean Railroader,
There’s plenty to be pessimistic about concerning HSr funding, but California isn’t one of them. Other than maintenance or replacing 40 year old overpasses, sound walls, California simply does not want to spend money on new freeways. And no one one will let SFO, LAX, OAK, San Jose, Burbank, Ontario or John Wayne airports take land for expansion.

Lastly, nut-job Repubs have no chance stopping California Demos and a fair number of traditional Republicans who realize that HSR, more Rapid Transit and policy incentives for more Electric Cars are essential for California economic growth and environmental protection. Yes California budget cuts are required, but HSR and Rapid Transit are not the places to do it.

It won’t be “nut-job Repubs” stopping California Dems, it will be Mr. Arithmetic. The state won’t be able to float any bonds for construction and they surely don’t have any ready funds available for money pits like the HSR line with it’s fictitious ridership projections.

California can float bonds no problem. You must have been reading the bullshit hysteria posted by people pushing books or agendas who want to make-believe that there’s some “credit risk” problem with California.

There isn’t. California could float $200 billion in bonds next week, and I bet they’d be charged less than 5% interest. Face it, there’s money chasing safe investments right now, and California is safer than any corporate bond in the US. It can still borrow at low rates and will be able to for decades.

This is another case of, as Krugman calls them, “invisible bond vigilantes”. People are going on about bond vigilantes refusing to loan to states, but there *aren’t any* right now — instead there’s a flood of rich people looking for munis to invest in.

And, of course, despite calls from many “experts” for precisely that strategy ~ to lock up all the HSR money in one place ~ that is precisely what the Obama administration quite wisely avoided doing, which is why there were projects ready and waiting to get the Florida money when it was handed back.

USDOT was clearly worried that there would be rescissions of unobligated HSR balances in the CR. There were a whole bunch of agreements signed in the last few weeks. The big unobligated pot still out there is California. That money can’t be obligated until the CEQA process is complete on the two Valley segments. It wouldn’t surprise me if USDOT decided not to put any more at risk in the 2012 CR (you know there’s going to be one, since there’s certainly not going to be a budget resolution). If that’s the case, the $2B might go 3/4 to the NEC and feeders: the PA and CT applications look very strong. Plus Michigan. Agreements on Amtrak or State owned lines will be much easier to get signed and the money therefore faster obligated.

The dumb is thing that can happen now is that they give Califironia’s high speed rail system any more money in that right now it’s basiclly a dead man walking on death row. I’ve seen Pennsyvinia’s and have personally riden on Amtrak’s Pennsyvinia line and they have a lot of things ready and waiting that could be replaced or up graded. They also want to restore 21 miles of the former four track wide mainline with a new thrid track next to the existing double track railroad bed on a fromer four track wide railroad bed.

Yea right its a dead man.! with $5.5 billion ready to build… and another 6.5 billion left of our bond… you really need to stop with the anti-high-speed California rail stuff, you’re always yelling about its not breaking ground yet.. what the hell do you expect for a $43 billion project that was voted on two years ago?? Everything before that was very preliminary engineering on a very limited budget and it was well stated that the project would not start until 2012 that’s what the ARRA funding had that situation that work must start by 2012 it was for us and this is America’s only true high-speed rail system with voter approved matching money.

The same thing happened Florida it had full funding and it kept on taking billions more in funding and they said the worlds, “Oh it’s fully funded we are going to break ground next year we only have to finish up some studies or whatever and we will be ready. And then wham it got pancaked when the govonor sat on it like a carton of eggs supostly when it was only a half a year from breaking ground.

This time how Cailforinia Rail is going to die is that they say they have five billion dollars in the bank but from what has happened last week where they can rip out high speed rail funding from a state before they have broken ground Cailforinia’s system most likely won’t live past the next eight months and will be sluagthered like Florida’s only in a more gursim death as it gets it’s guts gored out by the big elephants on Captail Hill as they go yank it’s funding out.

We dont have an Anti-HSR governor in the capital and we have 2 Democratic Senators so California is a totally different than the FLA fiscao which was raised from the dead only because of the ARRA monies compared to Californias planning and voter approved bond.

I’m not sure what you mean by “signed off”. The money has been committed. It hasn’t been obligated. There is no piece of paper with Ray LaHood’s and Jerry Brown’s signatures on it which details what will be constructed by when. What Diane Harkey was trying to do was prevent Brown signing such a piece of paper. Until it’s obligated, it can be withdrawn.

CHSRA has $2.5 billion of the HSIPR stimulus grants obligated. CA also has $400 million obligated for the Transbay Transit Center Train station in San Francisco, which I think has broken ground. What the CHSRA still has to obligate are the re-allocated portion they got of the Ohio and WI funding (as far as I can tell from looking at the obligation list on the FRA website) and the $715 million of FY10 HSIPR grants. With the threat of further rescissions over, the remaining CHSRA stimulus grants will probably get obligated in a few months once the $2 billion remaining of the FL HSR is re-distributed.

The DOT and CAHSR have signed off for ARRA at least as far as any Teabag type of recesion games..yes until the CEQA is done its not in the bank here

It’s only alive on paper and on a website right now there right now are no stakes in the ground or anything of that nature.

I wanted Michigan to get the money that Kasich stole from the Buckeyes ~ and I would be very happy if the Florida money was largely split between North Carolina and California.

I would be scared if Califorina takes away most of the Florida money in that it would be funneling it into one egg basket where the Tea pots can yank it right out from under their feet. At least with North Carolina the regular Republicans and other goverment officals have shut down the crazies form wreaking it.

If I was gambing money I would bet that Califorinia is going to somehow get there egg basket smashed apart somehow.

I don’t think they have the guts to anything more what high speed rail money is out there is out there.

I think Obama was under the impression the 1 billion in budget would’ve stayed and that’s why he went along with the original 1.5 billion cut for the weeks continuing resolution.. I think they sucker punched him and cut it out after he probably had a gentleman’s agreement that it would stay and to add injury to insult they rescinded 400 million from last year! Though I’m sure they don’t feel it’s a total loss because we do have the Florida money which is $2 billion and a billion over what was budgeted to distribute this year.

It’s still a failer in that even if these people get these rail projects started there not going to be able ot finish them and what’s to stop the clowns in office from yanking away the high speed rail money being given out from Florida right from under these people’s feet?

I am surprised that Obama has not yet figured out that Congressional Republican leadership, like the state Republican leaders in WI, MI, OH, FL, IN, NJ, etc., are the type who ALWAYS sucker punch you.

Luckily, various state government officials HAVE figured this out, and I suspect Mr. LaHood has figured it out too.

Dumb cuts will not save money. The Repubs’ demands and the Democratic cave resulted in cuts to the Amtrak appropriation by $128 million for “capital improvements and debt service”.

Further delays to the state of good repair on the NEC and elsewhere. High maintenance costs and slow speed will continue due to lack of capital improvements. (Not very business-like of Congress to undermine Amtrak’s plan to invest in cutting costs and improving service, but there you go.) Meanwhile much bigger improvements are pushed further into the future for lack of timely studies and preparation to make them ‘shovel-ready’.

AND, correct me I’m wrong, but that debt service cutback seems *beyond dumb*.

About a decade ago, when the Bushies were trying to make Amtrak go bankrupt to get rid of it, the nation’s railroad rebelled. Amtrak got cash to keep going — at least until the delayed Acelas could begin generating more revenue — by taking mortgages (like on Penn Station NYC and Union Station DC) and by “sale-and-leaseback” of railcars, engines, and other equipment.

The sale-and-leaseback deals raised enough funds to get Amtrak thru that crisis. BUT now it is stuck paying much higher rates of interest than the current rate. Those sale-and-leaseback deals and mortgages guaranteed the banks that sweet rate of interest for an agreed length of time, like 6 or 8 or 10 years, and after that time Amtrak could try to refinance the debt at a lower rate, with a modest one-time penalty.

Where we are now is that Amtrak is paying high interest on decade-old debt, borrowed at higher rates due to its crisis, of course. Nowadays the US Treasury is still paying about the lowest rate in modern times. Using Treasury money to refinance those old debts will save Amtrak tens of millions of dollars until they are completely paid off.

In just two or three years of refinancing these old deals, Amtrak has already reduced its total debt by a billion or two (we could look it up) while reducing its yearly interest payments substantially as well.

A look at Amtrak’s budget shows total payments of interest and principal has been running about $300 million a year — almost as much as the notorious losses on the long distance trains! Looks like now we’ll be paying more for a few years to come.

As I see it, the only ones who win from cutting $100 million or so from the refinancing program will be the bankers who own the mortgages and the equipment that Amtrak had to hock in the bad old pre-Acela days.

Giving breaks to bankers and debt holders, who will continue to collect the sweet interest payments, while increasing the costs to Amtrak — am I being too partisan just for pointing this out?

“Giving breaks to bankers and debt holders, who will continue to collect the sweet interest payments, while increasing the costs to Amtrak — am I being too partisan just for pointing this out?”

Yes. When all of the things that caused this disastrous situation to develop (in the 2000s), the Secretary of Transportation, Norm Mineta, was a Democrat. The president of Amtrak, David Gunn, was a Republican.

Again, transportation should not be a partisan issue. By identifying being pro-Amtrak and pro-transit with being a Democrat, Amtrak and transit will be harmed.

Amtrak is a partisan issue because the crazies now running the Repub party have made it so, here in 2011. And I’m not talking about how Amtrak’s problems were created, or where the first battle of the Civil War took place. I am saying that right now in this poisonous budget-cutting deal, the blind HATE of the dominant, nay, the controlling wing of the Repub party is on display.

We’re not talking about Repubs like Jacob Javits or Nelson Rockefeller or Henry Cabot Lodge or Earl Warren. We aren’t even talking Everitt Dirksen or George Romney or Bill Scranton or John Heinz or Tom Kean or Christie Whitman or Kay Bailey Hutchison. We ain’t talking about Jim Jeffords or Lincoln Chafee or even John Rowland or Jodi Wells, and certainly not good ole George Pataki, much less George Herbert Walker Bush. Those guys are long gone from any influence in the Repub party. We are talking about ideologues, cult members, zealots, and racists running the show. (The racists include but are not limited to the Congresscritter from S.C. who called out, during the State of the Union Address by America’s first Black president, “You lie!” It’s inconceivable that a Southern gentleman would ever have done such a thing to a White president.) These crazies have taken over what was once a Grand Old Party.

The crazies HATE Amtrak and all public transportation — except perhaps for small airports in remote places where private planes can use richly subsidized runways and other facilities.

And the crazies HATE anything that Obama favors. So now they’re especially hating on HSR.

That’s the reality of it today. If we don’t face the facts we won’t know what is going on with Amtrak or HSR.

And on of their strategies for obstructing progress is to take what ought to be non-partisan issues and try to make them partisan issues.

So to best fight them, we should give them what they are trying to achieve?

The crazies in office seemed more worried about how people run their families and about how people in some far off county that most people can’t find on a map. To tell them how they think they should run their own livesthen. Instead if our county is healthy enoughtto last another 100 years.

To best fight them, use the techniques that have worked in against Bush in 2006 and against similar right-wing populists in Europe: force them to try to govern. The Dutch PVV loses support in every region or municipality where it wins the local election, because it can’t govern and eventually people tire of the rhetoric. In the US, too, people tired of Bush and his cronyism and incompetence, and the only reason the Tea Party is a serious force is that in the face of a deep recession Obama had to increase deficit spending. People respond positively to competence. The GOP’s only strategy is to equate competence with bad politics, as they’ve done successfully with health care; it’s imperative to not let the party do the same to public transportation.

It is true that the best favor that Kasich could ever have done to the hopes of Obama’s reelection was to beat Strickland so that the Presidential election can be sold as a referendum on an already deeply unpopular governor ~ just as Kasich avoided running on his agenda and instead made the election a referendum on whether Strickland had “delivered” jobs.

I see that slightly more than one-third of Americans are Republicans and slightly more than one-third are Democrats.

So in doing the math, equating being pro-transit with being a Democrat and being anti-Republican will get slightly more than 1/3 of voters, and could alienate the rest, when they could be friendly (including Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood, Amtrak President Boardman, the majority of governors, the majority of the House, all of which are Republican).

Seems like a bad idea to me. There are plenty of pro-transit and pro-Amtrak Republicans- why attack them away when they’re on your side on the issue?

The majority of the House of Representatives is Republican, yes. So any spending bill for transit or Amtrak (or otherwise) will need GOP support to pass.

They don’t vote against “transportation”; they may vote for a budget that is less favorable to transit and Amtrak than I as a Republican would like. Time to build bridges and educate them, and definitely time to avoid making transportation a partisan issue.

Amtrak almost ran out of money under Bush and was almost cut but at that time they gave out 15 billion dollar bailouts to the airlines at the time so when that happened they kept Amtrak running. But even then Amtrak wasn’t really center stage like it is now and they didn’t really think much of it at the time as a main debate starter.

Both of those numbers are on their way down, and your numbers are also out of date. Democrats now outnumber Republicans, and independents also outnumber Republicans, in self-identification. There’s some question as to whether independents outnumber Democrats yet, but the trend is firm: independent ID is up. (FYI, Rasmussen is known for having a “house bias” in its polling methods which slightly overrepresents Republicans.)

I will thank you for pointing out something important, though. Unlike Democrats and independents, Republicans act tribal. If we pointedly attack the know-nothing liars who are running the Republican Party, Republican grassroots act as if it’s an attack on them. It’s only an attack on them to the extent to which they vote for lying know-nothings, but the tribal thinking doesn’t seem to be able to break through the “he attacked ONE OF US” mentality. How do you suggest we get through to otherwise reasonable people who are following demented leaders?

I don’t attack Joe Boardman at all. To me he’s done a good job in a very difficult position. He is, of course, a former member of Gov George Pataki’s team in New York State. I said Pataki’s days are gone; he is one of the moderate Repubs who now has no influence whatsoever on the crazies who have taken over his party.

I have great respect for Ray LaHood. I am sure that if he had not resigned his seat in Congress to become Secty of Transportation, and had remained a member of the House, he would have been primaried by the crazies by now and probably would have lost his seat.

How about former Gov Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin? Planning for the Milwaukee-Madison passenger trains began under his administration, and was continued under his successors, one a Democrat, one a Repub. He served as Chairman of the Amtrak Board. But when the crazies made HATING trains the party line, and the project he had brought into being came under fire, Thompson hurried to renounce it three times before the cock crowed.

Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas has been a decent and conservative Senator from Texas — and a stalwart supporter of Amtrak and its long distance trains. She will not be running for reelection because it was made abundantly clear to her that she would be primaried by the crazies.

Now I don’t hear any ELECTED Republicans outspokenly supporting trains in general and Amtrak specifically. Rep Mica was kinda, sorta a supporter, but he’s been bitch-slapped by the crazies Twice now. Slap One: Gov Scott in Florida cancelled the HSR line without bothering to give Mica a courtesy phone call. Slap Two: Mica’s colleagues come along with a fake budget-cutting plan and some of the biggest cuts are made from under the jurisdiction of his Committee.

Like you, I keep hoping that a strong pro-rail voice will emerge in the Repub party. If you find one, please let us know (and let’s hope that does not provoke the crazies to primary him too). But until I see it, I’ll have to treat it as a wishful dream, not the sad reality we are dealing with.

You are constantly saying that transit/transportation should be partisan, and attacking “Republicans”. Glad to see that you’re now listing some Republicans as OK. Now do you see that there are plenty of Republicans who will gladly help Amtrak and transit (unless support for them is made a partisan issue)?

For a strong pro-rail voice in the GOP, here’s a small start:

So, just to be clear, you are saying that there are plenty of Republicans who will gladly help Amtrak and transit, unless the radical right wing of the party succeeds in making it a partisan issue?

I’m worried about the radical right wing of them trashing the whole party in that if they keep this up they might case the quite groups of voters to have a backlash aginist them viewing them as something to battle.

I think that train’s left the station, to use an analogy. The radical right wing has comprehensively taken over the Republican party at the national level and in most states at the state level. It is starting to cause outright backlash in states like Wisconsin where they are particularly brazen. I say thank goodness for the backlash, it’s better than them getting away with it.

And don’t worry about one-party rule if the Republican Party dies; Duverger’s Law shows that we’ll just get a new party to compete with the Democrats.

That’s not an elected official, Chris.

Good luck taking back your party for the forces of sanity, but like Woody says, it’s looking like a fool’s errand.

Personally, I’ve been saying we’re ripe for a party realignment. Labels like “Republican” and “Democrat” don’t mean what they used to, and they also don’t align at all with the real divides in the electorate. At the moment, at the national and state levels, Republicans are dominated by lunatic ideologues, and Democrats are dominated by Eisenhower-style conservatives, at best. This isn’t sustainable, but the Republican leadership is making *sure* you sane guys don’t take back the Republican party.

Drop your old dead party and work to create something better. I’d love to see two real, sane parties in this country (or more); at the moment I doubt there is even one.

The echo chamber in this forum concerning federal spending is truly delusional.


40% of all money budgeted for this year by the federal government is being created out of thin air. The Treasury issues bonds and the Federal Reserve “buys” them. That is called “monetization of debt.”

Dedicating billions upon billions to projects that will never return even operating costs and will only present a bill for their entire lifespan is fiscal irresponsibility of the highest level. This is why Ohio, Wisconsin, and Florida saw the light and backed out of their HSR plans.

California’s HSR plan is a dead man walking. Not a shovel full of dirt has yet been moved. A betting man would say that none ever will.

The ONLY higher speed project that is being implemented in any sort of expeditious fashion is the Chicago-St. Louis upgrade. Track has actually been laid. Trains actually will run on that track this year.

The real budget metric for any project should be the amount of private money that is willing to invest in a project. When it is someone’s own money rather than OPM collected at the point of a gun (taxes), the decisions get simple real fast.

This is why Ohio, Wisconsin, and Florida saw the light and backed out of their HSR plans.

How much highway money did they return? How much education funding? Did they cut their Medicaid budget? . . .

I don’t think it’s really a case that they backed out of the plans it was more nothing had been built and the people who where building the high speed rail didn’t jump on their feet fast enought to get out of the station. Chicago’s train got the funding and shot out of the station while Florida’s and Cailorinia’s sat in the station.

What’s your problem with money printing?

Look up “Modern Monetary Theory”. Fact is there is no problem with money printing as long as it doesn’t generate inflation, and due to the current depression, it isn’t generating inflation. We could use more well-thought-out money printing.

Of course, the problem at the moment is that the money being printed is going straight into bank vaults and staying there (to “shore up their balance sheets” in the various bank bailouts), not going into the real economy.

If you want to not print money, meanwhile, it’s easy enough to balance the budget — just reverse the Bush tax cuts. Clinton had a surplus, which he generated by raising taxes on the richest. Restore Clinton tax rates (or better, Eisenhower tax rates), ping, you have a surplus, and nobody’s hurt except the richest, and they’re not hurt much.

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