Location: With the stimulus, you had a victory a couple weeks ago, getting $3 billion extra for transit that didn’t make it into the final bill. What happened?
Mr. Nadler: We’re still trying to figure that out. That went into a—I wouldn’t even call it a conference. It was really a meeting of the White House and the leadership of the Senate and the House. … In the House bill, there were, as you know, $12 billion [for transit], because we passed that [$3 billion] amendment. The Senate bill, it was $8.4 billion, albeit they had gotten 58 votes for an amendment to bring it up to $14.9, so there was strong support there, but not enough. … All of a sudden, you come out with $8.4 billion, the Senate number.
Generally, with the conference process, was it frustrating?
Of course it was frustrating. I was very upset. It was very frustrating because we worked very hard to get an amendment, and the Senate didn’t do it. What’s very frustrating in general is that the Senate needs 60 votes, which is ridiculous, but that’s got to change. If they had needed 60 votes to change anything 40 years ago, you wouldn’t have had Medicare, Medicaid or the Voting Rights Act, or anything. But now they’ve got themselves into this stupid position where they have to have 60 votes and it’s almost impossible to get. It’s a formula for non-action.
More than $1 billion is expected to come to the M.T.A. … Do you have feelings about how they should divide it up?
In general, my criteria on how you should always spend money answers two things: mobility and capacity.
But is there that much that is even eligible that they could spend money on to advance those two things?
Everything they spend advances those two things.
But most everything on their list is repairs.
But repairs are fine. Repairs advance mobility.
In the process for the M.T.A. to divide up the money, how political do you think it’s going to be?
I don’t know. Politics will enter into it. The M.T.A. will be leaned on, I assume.
Have you been fielding calls from people who want things from the stimulus?
Do you think that will come?
I don’t think I’m going to get too much pressure, frankly, because I’m not the M.T.A.; I’m not at that level.
With stimulus spending in general on infrastructure, a lot of it won’t get spent for a couple of years.
We want this money to be spent as rapidly as possible, but I don’t think we’re going to be out of the woods in six months or a year and a half. I think, at best, we’re in for a two- or three-year recession … so if some of this money doesn’t get spent until year three, that’s O.K.
With construction in New York, the Building Congress has estimated prices here are 50 percent higher than some other major American cities. Is it such an efficient investment, in terms of stimulus, to spend much on construction here?
Yes. From a stimulus point of view—the issue from an economic point of view is not how expensive it is per building and not how many buildings get built. The issue is how much money you’re putting into the economy; how many people you’re employing.
But wages are higher here.
That’s O.K. So are costs, but from a stimulus point of view, it really doesn’t matter if wages are higher or slower. From a stimulus point of view, you really just want to get money into the economy and circulating.
The stimulus didn’t seem to really live up to its early rhetoric of being innovative.
I think we’ve done a lot of innovative things in here and we’ve done a lot of good things in here. But the basic goal, remember, was not to build a highway system. … The fact that we’re doing good things is secondary. The real purpose is to get money circulating fast.