Friday, August 5, 2016
Republican Platform on Transportation: Failing grade
Amid all the drama of the two major party political conventions, policy issues got very little attention and the platforms themselves even less. Actually, despite the cynicism that party platforms attract, they have been shown historically to be good indicators of the general policy direction, and often the specific initiatives, the respective parties will adopt. The transportation planks of the 2016 platforms are definitely worth a look.
So, first the Republicans (full text available here). I guess the good news is that the Republicans actually have a transportation plank, called “America on the Move.” The narrative begins with a nostalgic reference to the days of bipartisan transportation policies: a curious way to begin, as the Republicans effectively ended the days of bipartisanship by refusing to entertain any more bumps in the federal gas tax. The text then shifts into an ideological attack on the Obama Administration for subordinating “civil engineering to social engineering as it pursues an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit.” (FYI, the use of the term “government transit” instead of “public transportation” is a marker for Tea Party ideology.)
The main proposal of the plank is pulling all non-highway programs out of the Highway Trust Fund. Targeted are “mass transit,” bike/ped programs, recreational trails, landscaping, historical “renovations,” ferry boats, federal lands, scenic byways, and education. These “worthwhile enterprises” should be funded “through other sources.” These other sources apparently don’t include other federal funds, as the platform states that these programs “should not be the business of the federal government.”
Of course, it’s easier to dismiss all these other programs – as well as encouragement for Smart Growth – if you don’t believe that climate change is real. The Environmental Progress plank talks about “shoddy science” and “scare tactics” in regard to climate science and advocates withholding U. S. funding from the UN climate program, repudiating the Paris agreement, and enforcing “dispassionate analysis of hard data” (lulz).
The transportation plank does recognize that current funding levels for surface transportation (meaning highways) may fall short. The answer? Encourage more public/private partnerships. This shift from tax financing to toll financing is a Tea Party/Reason Foundation ideological mainstay.
Some other proposals:
· Repeal Davis-Bacon (old-fashioned union busting)
· “Reform” provisions of the environmental laws
· Privatize Amtrak, at least in the Northeast Corridor
My final grade for the transportation plank of the Republican platform? F. From a political science standpoint, the language should be credited for being generally clear about direction and specific about proposals. However, any platform that proposes to withdraw the federal commitment to surface transportation (outside of basic highway funding) gets a failing grade from me.