Congress' latest skirmish over the debt ceiling left our country without a real plan to get our economy and its people moving again. While politicians are sharpening their knives for deeper cuts to services, the real focus needs to be on creating jobs and making sure that people have an efficient and affordable transportation network to get them to work.
Sadly, not all the folks in Washington see it this way, and reauthorization of the federal transportation budget for our roads and transit systems is in jeopardy. The leadership in the House of Representatives has already proposed a massive cut to the next wave of federal transit investment that would take $7.2 billion from New York over the next six years and would cost the state almost 45,000 jobs in the first year alone.
On the national level, the proposed cuts will mean the loss of more than 600,000 jobs -- a number that, if not offset, would push the national 9.1 percent unemployment rate up to 9.5 percent.
Senate Transportation Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has a slightly better plan, but it's still too light on funding for the infrastructure and jobs we need. It also lacks reforms that would prevent projects from being selected politically instead of practically.
We deserve better. We deserve a 21st century transportation system that improves air quality, reduces congestion, boosts commerce and saves energy. We deserve transportation policies that force wiser spending of our tax dollars on projects that help our economy the most while improving health, safety and the environment.
These are not conflicting priorities. Take the Long Island Rail Road. The LIRR is the busiest commuter rail line in the nation, providing more than 300,000 rides each weekday. It takes millions of car miles, and the exhaust and accidents that go with them, off the road each year. The LIRR provides a cost-effective method of transit for commuters, and employs thousands of New Yorkers.
Yet the LIRR will be in deep trouble if Congress goes down the road of cutting federal transit spending. The House bill, for example, would cut the MTA's budget by $1.2 billion over the next three years -- equivalent to canceling the project to untangle the tracks at Jamaica Station and effectively stopping the project to bring the LIRR to Grand Central. Put another way: The cut to the MTA would equal the cost of all scheduled rehab work planned for New York City's subways for the next three years.
Time is nearly up to get Congress on the right track again. When both houses return to Washington after Labor Day, they will have about four weeks to determine the future of our country's transportation networks before the current spending and funding plans expire.
When they convene, the Long Island delegation must work across party lines on a package that invests in vital infrastructure for our region and that creates jobs. Projects that meet core standards guaranteed to improve the environment and the safety and health of millions of Americans and New Yorkers must be prioritized.
Opportunities to improve our quality of life and secure our future are few and far between -- especially when our economy is stuck in neutral, and we have to make every tax dollar count to move our nation forward. A better transportation bill can do that; and do it fast.
So let's get moving. It's time for Congress to shift gears and put a smarter transportation plan for America and New York in the fast lane.