NYC Congress Members, MTA Chief Repudiate House GOP Attack on Transit

Congress members Joe Crowley, Charlie Rangel, Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney joined MTA chief Joe Lhota to decry the House Republicans' attempt to end dedicated federal funding for transit. Photo: Noah Kazis

Four New York City members of Congress joined the chairman of the MTA today to bluntly denounce the House GOP’s anti-transit transportation bill.

“It’s the worst piece of legislation you could ever imagine,” said MTA chief Joe Lhota, a Republican who served as the city’s budget director during the Giuliani administration.

“The worst transportation bill we have ever seen,” agreed Representative Jerry Nadler, a liberal Democrat.

Though the Republican proposal includes a number of other reasons for New Yorkers to hate it, such as eliminating the Safe Routes to School and Transportation Enhancements programs, which fund bicycle and pedestrian improvements, today’s presser focused on the attack on dedicated transit funding.

Currently, about 20 percent of federal gas tax revenues are devoted to transit, which provides the MTA $1 billion per year in dedicated capital funding. The transit agency gets another $400 million a year from the federal general fund. Under the Republican proposal, all transit funds would come from the general fund, where they’d have to compete with defense, health care and other spending priorities.

That $1 billion a year is absolutely necessary for the MTA to continue repairing the system and building expansions, and it could disappear entirely. Charlie Rangel, former chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, which passed the anti-transit provision, said he asked influential House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan where the money to pay for transit would come from in the general fund. “The answer was they did not know at that time,” said Rangel.

The four Congress members in attendance did not mince words about the House bill. “Not even worth a warm bucket of asphalt,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney. Nadler said the bill exposed the attitude of the Republican Party toward transit riders: “You’re second class citizens. We don’t give a damn about you. Just disappear.”

Queens Representative Joe Crowley, who set up the event, argued that the Republican proposal revealed the hypocrisy of his Republican colleagues’ rhetoric. In arguing against Democratic policy changes, he said, conservatives cited the need for “the certainty to invest” and “the certainty to hire.” By making transit funding dependent on the yearly priorities of Congress rather than predictable gas tax receipts, the Republican proposal eliminates all certainty for transit agencies.

Even where the House Republicans have kept transit programs in place, they’ve added an extreme anti-urban tilt to what remains. A change to the bus and bus facilities grant program, Maloney noted, would bar funds from going to any transit system that also operated any kind of rail line. No more grants for New York City from that pot.

The future of the House bill remains to be seen. Its radical provisions have inspired widespread opposition, not only from pro-transit organizations but also traditionally road-friendly groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and AASHTO. According to Politico, the arch-conservative Club For Growth is working to defeat the bill from the right, while no Democrats are expected to support the legislation.

If it does pass the House, it seems unlikely that the Democrat-controlled Senate would accept the most extreme provisions of the Republican package, setting Congress up for another round of partisan brinksmanship. For its part, the Obama administration is also opposing the Republican proposal in no uncertain terms. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, himself a former House Republican, called the House proposal “the worst transportation bill I’ve ever seen during 35 years of public service.”

Even so, House Democrats aren’t relying on the other branches of government to kill the bill. “You don’t depend. Who knows what deals will be made in the Senate,” said Nadler. Instead, he challenged every Republican representing an urban or suburban area to vote against the bill. “Anyone from a suburb or a city who votes for this is voting against their own district,” said Nadler.

Notably, ostensibly transit-friendly New York-area Republican Congress members like Peter King or Michael Grimm were absent from today’s press conference.