Friday, August 5, 2016
Evaluating the Democratic Platform on Transportation
Having evaluated the Republican Platform on transportation, I thought I should also do the Democratic. You won’t be surprised to hear that it is far better – a pretty low bar to clear.
The Democratic Platform (available here) doesn’t actually have a Transportation Plank (more about that in a minute) but does discuss the topic under the “Create Good-Paying Jobs” and Climate Change/Clean Energy/Environmental Justice planks.
There are two strong elements concerning transportation.
First, the platform calls for a major investment in infrastructure: making “the most ambitious investment in American infrastructure since President Eisenhower created the interstate highway system.” For transportation, this means “updating and expanding our roads, bridges, public transit, airports, and passenger and freight rail lines.”
Second, the platform directly links transportation investment to climate change (“an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time”) and clean energy: “We will transform American transportation by reducing oil consumption through cleaner fuels, vehicle electrification [and] increasing the fuel efficiency of cars, boilers, ships, and trucks. We will make new investments in public transportation and build bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure across our urban and suburban areas.” Transportation is one part of the “green and resilient infrastructure” that will “protect communities from the impact of climate change and help them to mitigate its effects.”
I do have a few smallish concerns and one big one. On the smallish side, transportation does not get its own plank, but is subsumed mainly into “infrastructure,” which itself is an element of “Create Good-Paying Jobs.” Transportation plays a unique role in the economy and society, and mixing it in with water and sewer and schools and energy grids in funding programs can cause problems. Also, in an ideal world I would have liked to have seen a better defined vision for a 21st century transportation system, more on resilience, more on transportation reform, more on the overall importance of transportation to the economy (beyond short-term jobs), and more program details.
But those concerns are really more drafting issues than substance issues. My big concern is that the plank doesn’t address revenue. This is going to be a big challenge, but we won’t get to where we need to be without a significant slug of new revenue. Not only does the plank not talk about revenue, it evokes the siren song of a national infrastructure bank. As I have said many times before, infrastructure banks are fine, but they are tools for borrowing money not generating revenue.
So overall I give the Democratic platform on transportation a B grade on the basis of its strong commitment to a robust investment program and to its clear linkage to climate change. It's a really good start, but A grades are only available to those who propose a solid revenue plan. Bonus points may be available later!