Some ideas are so mind-numbingly bad that they do not deserve a serious response. Moon advertising comes to mind. (That’s right. Advertisements projected across the moon. An idea so universally hated that Congress threatened to intervene in the early 90s despite the utter infeasibility of it.) Stopping hurricanes with hydrogen bombs. (No joke: an actual real life meteorologist championed this idea.) Rebooting Casablanca as a live TV musical event starring a cast of unruly kindergarten-aged children who missed naptime and who are all very upset about it. (As far as I know, nobody is pushing this one. Let’s hope it stays that way.)
Here’s one more for you: paying for America’s desperately underfunded highway infrastructure needs by eliminating all federal funding for public transportation. From Winnemucca, Nevada to New York City, simply dump the 7 million commuters who count on buses, rail, and subways every single day to get to and from work. That will somehow fix our problems, the American workforce be damned.
Never mind the myriad benefits transit provides to the American economy. Yes, every dollar invested in public transportation generates $4 in economic returns. Yes, every $10 million made in capital investments generates $30 million in increased sales for American businesses. Yes, home values perform better when they are located near good public transportation. Yes, it saves American families thousands of dollars every year. Yes, that is 11 billion trips annually that would otherwise contribute even more traffic to already soul crushingly congested highways around the country.
Yet, eliminating funding for public transportation is exactly what the fine people at Americans for Prosperity* have proposed. (*I’ve seen no evidence that any of their proposals – not a single one of them – would increase prosperity for Americans.) Not only that, they plan to pump more than $100,000 into a lobbying campaign to champion this bad idea.
In case you are unfamiliar, Americans for Prosperity is the same Koch Brothers funded group that has opposed anti-smoking campaigns around the country, that brought us Scott Walker, that bravely denies climate change in the face of all evidence to the contrary, and that champions so-called “right-to-work” laws that have decimated union membership and in turn destroyed good wages for the American people. So you’ll forgive me if I am skeptical of this new initiative’s merits.
To be sure, transit has been in Americans for Prosperity’s crosshairs for years now. The group has already spent about $4 million on state lobbying activities that have successfully killed local transit projects, which makes all of this somehow worse.
Let me explain. There is a school of thought (not a very good one) which holds that transit is a local priority and thus it should be paid for by the states and cities it benefits rather than the federal government. (I’ll save my many arguments about the short-sightedness of devolution for another time.) But by attacking transit at both ends, federally and locally, the Koch brothers and Americans for Prosperity are looking to have their billionaire flavored cake and eat it too. Because at the end of the day, this has nothing to do with a debate about local vs. federal projects for them. They want transit dead so they can further enrich themselves and their business interests. Full stop.
Let me be absolutely clear about something: our highways and bridges have massive needs. Between deferred maintenance and the backlog of much-needed new construction, Congress’s inaction is nothing short of a national disgrace. We are leaving good paying jobs on the table and are putting Americans at a disadvantage while we sit asleep at the wheel when it comes to fixing our infrastructure. But we are a wealthy nation and this is not a zero sum game. We do not have to take money out of one pocket to put it in another. Even if some fake grassroots campaign run by two greedy multi-billionaires tells us to.
It is a bad idea. It is such a bad idea that it does not deserve a response. But here I am, giving it one.
Let’s not let a couple of greedy multi-billionaires further enrich themselves by pitting Americans against one another. Instead, let’s do the right thing. Let’s fund all of our surface transportation infrastructure at the levels they deserve. Transit, highways, bridges, rail. All of it. Let’s do it so that we can all get to work each day without sitting in nightmare commutes. So that we aren’t needlessly spending $1,300 a year in repairs and lost time. So that we can unleash the American workforce in good paying union sector jobs. And so that we can continue to show the world what 21st century infrastructure looks like. The concerns of two greedy multi-billionaires be damned.