Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

In the midst of the still perpetual bad news (gun slaughter, the Chauvin trial, the climate crisis), I can't express how good it is to also see more good news because Mafia Mulligan is no longer in office. 

Here's one example. Back in November, I posted a proposal from Yonah Freemark about how the Biden administration could fund transit in all cities with 100,000 people or more to Chicago-levels of service. Now today, Freemark is back describing Biden's latest infrastructure funding proposal:

Biden infrastructure package would be a very big federal investment in the surface transport system:
- $115 billion fix-it-1st roads
- $85 billion transit
- $80 billion intercity rail
- $174 billion for electric vehicles

Top line: The package takes climate change seriously and funds transit over road expansion.

The program of transit and intercity rail investment ($165 billion/8 years) would be a massive expansion over the existing program, averaging more than $20 billion/year. This would double the size of the current federal transit program (~$10 billion/year) and roughly quadruple federal rail program (~$2 billion/year).

This scale of transit funds wouldn't be enough to allow every city to increase its transit to Chicago levels—but it would take many cities a significant part of the way there, depending on whether funds could be used for operating or just capital needs.

The investment program would be the first-ever serious federal investment in national intercity rail. The US has never taken intercity rail seriously. What is being proposed in this plan would allow the construction of new lines, allow Amtrak to run way more service on new routes.

The plan's electrification component includes support for:
- Sale rebates for consumer purchasing of electric cars
- 500,000 electric charging stations
- Electric buses everywhere
- An electrified federal fleet, including USPS

Intriguingly, the plan makes no mention as far as I could find of new roads. It would allocate $115 billion for road and bridge modernization, "fixing them first" and "fixing them right." This would represent a sea change from current approach to road expansion.

Indeed, the ratio of rail and transit infrastructure spending to highway infrastructure spending—1.43 to 1—would reverse the current ratio— ~0.33 to 1—and in the right direction.

It would also provide $20 billion for cities to improve road safety, such as through vision zero plans that prioritize pedestrians and cyclists. Another $20 billion would go for reconnecting neighborhoods cut off by highways—implying funds could be used for highway demolition.

These are just the surface-transportation elements of the plan. There's also billions to be allocated to safe drinking water, high-speed broadband, a carbon-free electric system, affordable homes, schools, and more.

Some of the housing components are particularly exciting:

-1 million affordable and sustainable homes through project-based support and tax credits
-500,000 low/moderate-income for-sale homes
-$40 billion for public housing
-A new program to promote eliminating exclusionary housing policies

The $2 trillion program would be funded by:

- Increasing the corporate tax rate to 28%
- Increasing the minimum tax on US multinationals
- Preventing tax havens
- Ramping up IRS enforcement

All over 15 years.

Suffice it to say, this is an ambitious legislative program. It takes climate change seriously (for the first time in a federal infrastructure bill). We'll see what kind of support it retains in the Congress.

So the proposal doesn't meet the Chicago standard on transit funding, but it gets a lot of the way there, and it does a lot of other things that are good, too, some of them outside the realm of transportation, which I am just realizing as I write this.

It's so nice to use the Part of the Solution category.

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