Unions battle “Scrooge” Congress on transportation needs

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WASHINGTON (PAI) - Federal transportation funding is so skimpy that Congress acts like Ebenezer Scrooge when it comes to helping pay for the nation's roads, subways, buses and other transportation, the AFL-CIO's top transportation official says.

Edward Wytkind, president of the federation's Transportation Trades Department, offered that comparison in a late-December commentary at the Huffington Post. It comes just before Congress returns to town again, on Jan. 6, having rejected past lobbying by organized labor, congressional Democrats, and President  Obama, to approve a long-term bill funding highways, subways and buses.

Instead, lawmakers, bowing to pressure from the tea party-run House GOP majority, okayed a two-year highway-subway-bus funding bill that barely keeps up with present needs. And then lawmakers let the federal tax break for transit commuters drop by half, while letting the tax break for drivers rise by $5 a month.

Independent analysts say the difference - the break for drivers will be more than double that for bus and subway riders - will force more people to drive.

Wytkind's department recently endorsed a proposal by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., to try to provide more money for highways, buses and subways, by increasing the federal gas tax by 15 cents a gallon. The gas tax, now 18.6 cents, last rose in 1993. But the TTD chief went farther in his blog.

"2014 must include a comprehensive vision - and adequate resources - for strengthening the country's transportation systems, which are the lifeblood of a growing 21st century economy," he said. "Several decades of Scrooge-like transportation budgets have left our bridges falling down, our aviation system suffering from outdated technology and inadequate capacity, our rail and transit systems forced to curtail service as demand soars, and our ports and navigation channels unable to compete in a global economy.

"And amidst an anemic recovery, these policies have left millions of American jobs on the sidelines."

The mass transit-highway plan he favors would not only put thousands of construction workers on the job rebuilding roads and bridges, but would also "direct the billions of taxpayer dollars spent annually on rail car and bus procurement toward companies that maximize job creation and make those jobs available to disadvantaged communities and veterans," he said. The new Jobs To Move America coalition, which includes TTD, is touting that idea, Wytkind said.    

Photo: Ed Wytkind, who runs the AFL-CIO's transportation trades department, lays the blame for crumbling infrastructure on decades of "Scrooge" budgets passed by Congress. Frank Varga/AP & Skagit Valley Herald

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