Members of New York City’s Democratic Congressional delegation and Metropolitan Transportation Authority chief Joe Lhota gathered at Grand Central Terminal today to call on House Republicans to cease moving forward on a bill that would strip transit agencies across the country of needed funding.
“We have people shooting dice with the economy of the City and State of New York,” said Harlem Congressman Charlie Rangel, the dean of the New York delegation. He added that the bill was a cynical attempt to divide urban from rural America.
“There is no agenda that they have. Every time this issue comes up they try to take away. First just because it is the City of New York, and second, because they have a majority now, they are taking advantage of us.”
The federal transportation bill now making its way through the House of Representatives would shift the federal gas tax from being divided between highway projects and mass transit to being strictly for highways. Mass transportation funding would instead be subject to the regular appropriations process. The GOP bill seems unlikely to be approved since the whole House has yet to vote on it, the Senate is unlikely to go along and President Barack Obama seems likely to veto it. But Democrats seemed ready to use the measure as an electoral weapon against the GOP.
“I challenge any Republican who represents any urban area with a mass transit in the United States, any suburban area with a mass transit system in the United States to vote for this bill on the floor,” said Jerry Nadler. “This is a bill aimed like a dagger at the heart of city and suburban areas.”
“If your congressman votes for this bill, you should never have anything to do with him again,” Mr. Nadler said.
If passage seems unlikely, the Democrats gathered at Grand Central wanted to insure that the plan got no closer to reality.
“Like the New York Giants, this is a race we have to win in Congress,” said Carolyn Maloney of the East Side. “We have to reverse this Republican plan that would be so detrimental to our great city and to mass transit across the nation. The Republican plan is not even worth a warm bucket of asphalt.”
If the bill did pass, it would put at risk $1.7 billion in mass transit funding for the city of New York, and would hinder the city and state’s ability to make long term capital plans. Mr. Lhota said that it could impact a whole slew of MTA projects, including the redevelopment of the World Trade Center and the Second Ave Subway.
Policy makers on both sides of the aisle have long argued that gas taxes are not a sustainable way to pay for mass transit, since the funds are dependent on people driving, and can be affected new technologies such as higher mileage ratings for automobiles and more transit-friendly housing developments.