Oberstar: Mass Transit Got the Shaft to Make Room For Tax Cuts

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I wondered last week why the $825 billion House stimulus bill gave the short end of the stick to mass transit, despite vows from President Obama and other Dems to wean the country off its obsession with gas-guzzling car travel. After all, the House bill contains only $10 billion for transit compared with $30 billion for road-building — a $20 billion-plus cut from the infrastructure stimulus proposal put forth last month by Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN), chairman of the House transportation panel.

It looks like Oberstar himself shed some more light on the question two days ago, while Washington was in the thick of inauguration fever. In a speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Oberstar explained why ground-breaking infrastructure projects got sliced: to make room for tax cuts. Here’s how he put it:

That is why we set forth this $85-billion initiative from our committee. It’s been reduced in the final going. We expect that it’ll come out somewhere around $63 billion, but $30 billion for highways.

The reason for the reduction in overall funding — we took money out of Amtrak and out of aviation; we took money out of the Corps of Engineers, reduced the water infrastructure program, the drinking water and the wastewater treatment facilities and sewer lines, reduced that from $14 billion to roughly $9 billion — was the tax cut initiative that had to be paid for in some way by keeping the entire package in the range of $850 billion.

But I’ll say that our portion is the one that really creates the jobs. Our portion of it is the one that’s going to put people to work because unlike anything else, these jobs can’t be outsourced to Bangalore, India.

Trading high-speed rail for more tax cuts? Hmmm …

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