5:36 pm Feb. 6, 2012
Late last week, a Republican-led House committee proposed a bill that would reallocate federal transportation money from a dedicated stream and instead subject that spending to yearly budget negotiations.
This morning, the four Democratic members from New York, along with the chairman of the M.T.A., responded.
“We have people shooting dice with the economy of the city and state of New York,” said Rep. Charles Rangel, at a press conference in a roped-off area in Grand Central Terminal. “Most all of you know that our great city and state sends far more money to Washington than we get back.”
He said the legislation is part of a larger anti-urban Republican agenda.
“There’s no hidden agenda that they have,” Rangel said. “Every time this issue comes up, they try to take it away. First, just because it’s the city of New York and second, because they have a majority now and they’re taking advantage of it.”
Introducing Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Rangel suggested the Second Avenue Subway be named after her.
“The Republican plan is not worth a warm bucket of asphalt,” said Maloney, paraphrasing a famous comment about the uselessness of the American vice presidency.
She said the plan would roll back all the plans put in place since Ronald Reagan dedicated the gas-tax fund to transportation in 1983.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler said the bill was the worst he’d ever seen, and pointed out that federal transportation commissioner Ray LaHood, a Republican, agreed. Nadler added that the bill seemed designed to hit at New York and other large cities, saying that when he offered an amendment to keep the dedicated transit funding, the Republican chairman of the House transportation committee John Mica, opposed it, telling Nadler it was the point of the bill.
“The central purpose of the Republican transportation bill is to gut the mass-transit funding, to take guaranteed funding away for mass transit and make it dependent on annual appropriations, which you cannot depend on,” Nadler said. “That, he said, was the central purpose of the bill.”
Nadler said the bill was aimed “like a dagger” at cities and suburbs and would impact people all over the New York region.
“If your congressman votes for this bill, you should never have anything to do with them again,” he said.
The legislation would apply to $1.7 billion in transit funding to New York State.
The M.T.A., which heavily relies on federal money for new projects and improvements, is most concerned with the approximately $1 billion it gets for capital improvements, which would be moved from a dedicated revenue stream, tied to the gas tax, into the general fund. That money would then be competed for as part of yearly budget negotiations.
(An additional $400 million for megaprojects such as the Second Avenue Subway and 7 train extension is already in the general fund.)
“If this bill goes forward, we’ll have to make some serious decisions because of the lack of funding, what will continue, what will move forward and at what pace,” said M.T.A. chairman Joe Lhota. “So it has a terrible impact on each and every one of our projects.”
This week, the Democratic-led Senate plans to introduce a competing bill, with more money guaranteed for transit. The members of Congress conceded it was unlikely the House bill would pass a Democrat-led Senate, but they said it was the representatives’ responsibility to take on issues as they arise and not rely on the Senate or President Barack Obama.
“You don’t rely on the Senate stopping it,” Nadler said later to reporters.
Rep. Joseph Crowley said his constituents in the Bronx could never get Metro North Access and those in Queens would have worse commute times because of Republican “shenanigans.”
“They, quite frankly, don’t like mass transit," Crowley said. "They think it means too much to cities like New York and cities like Chicago and elsewhere, but the reality is we know we move 8.5 million people a day.”
Address the Republicans' motives, Crowley said, “I don’t want to believe in my heart they’re doing this because the cities tend to be bluer than red ... I don’t want to believe that that’s the case, or that the commuters around this area tend to be more blue than red. That would maybe lead some to believe that may be one of the reasons why they want to divert this money from the cities to more roads and bridges, etc., but we all have an interest in maintaining our roads and bridges.”
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