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January 25, 2011

Tea Party Rail Policy: Starve The Beast, Build a Rail-to-Trail Bike Path

Transportation policy is an interest of mine. The National Journal's newest topic is Taking Aim at Railroads. From their intro,
It would appear that tea party Republicans aren't big fans of government rail programs, judging from the Republican Study Committee's spending reduction recommendations released last week. The conservative crop of Republicans have proposed eliminating federal subsidies for Amtrak ($1.6 billion annually), the Transportation Department's New Starts program for commuter rail and rapid transit systems ($2 billion annually), and all grant programs for intercity and high-speed rail ($2.5 billion annually).
They present a few different perspectives.
William Millar, head of a rail industry trade association, says the proposal puts 200,000 jobs at risk and is inconsistent with economic conditions. Ed Wytkind of AFL-CIO says the proposal will put people out of work and devastate critical infrastructure.

Jack Kinstlinger, who is a railroad guy and recently a MagLev advocate, calls the proposal "One of the most irresponsible documents I have ever seen. Republicans will try to balance the budget on the backs of the poor, sick and elderly. Rail projects are a target because they originated in the White House..."

Conservative think-tanker Bill Lind says Tea Partiers must be misinformed about rail, and suggests that if we were to reduce American safety standards then our costs would be reduced. (thanks Bill!)

Bob Poole of the Reason Foundation, who is like a relentless zombie that keeps showing up with nefarious claims, explains the problem with rail and mass transit is that the people who pay for it aren't the people that use it, so we should make the (poor, urban) people who use it pay for it.

Finally, think-tanker Gabriel Roth says, "Subsidies for inter-urban travel services can reasonably be terminated (because transportation has a user-pays tradition).... Mass transit benefits mainly urban areas, and Congress may reasonably question the propriety of forcing federal taxpayers to finance local services."

I'm trying to wrap my wee brain around the concept of the government only providing services to the people that are willing to directly pay for them. That would make the government seem rather like a vendor, which is certainly a model for effective outsourcing. It does have a few interesting implications.
  • Since rich people are able to pay, they'll get a lot of government services
  • Poor people will get less government services
  • Kiss the safety net, the Great Society and the New Deal goodbye.
  • Since people should pay only for the services they want, who exactly pays for Afghanistan and Iraq?
  • Is democracy a cafeteria plan or is it prix fixe?

The return of the Starve The Beast crowd portends a grim time ahead, I think, for what's left of the middle class and for the growing ranks of the poor, the uninsured, and the WalMarted.

I do believe that the Tea Party rail policy will result in a lot of nice new rail-to-trail bike paths where the trains used to be. There is that.


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