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What Happened To Transit?

Kate Sheppard snagged a detailed outline of Obama's economic stimulus plan that's making the rounds on Capitol Hill. One glaring—and puzzling—omission, which John Judis noticed as well: There's virtually nothing in there for rail or public transportation. (It's possible that some of the $25 billion tagged for infrastructure in the proposed "Jobs and Growth Fund" could go toward transit, but that's unclear.)

Now, granted, as Matthew Yglesias explains, building a shiny new high-speed rail system doesn't really work as stimulus, since it would take years for a project to get past the permits-and-lawsuits stage. But there are reportedly some $25.2 billion worth of smaller transit projects that could get underway within a year—why not help finance them? Or, if the Obama team has already crunched the numbers and can't find any "shovel-ready" transit projects, why not simply offer aid to existing public-transit agencies to reduce fares or, say, improve service for current bus lines? As Dean Baker notes, if every transit agency was able to reduce fares by $1 per trip, that would roughly equal a $500 average tax rebate for riders over the course of a year. And it would have the advantage of encouraging transit over driving where possible, reducing greenhouse-gas emissions in the process.

Meanwhile, E&E Daily reports that Senate Democrats don't think there's nearly enough money in the bill to support some of Obama's more audacious energy goals, including his pledge to "double the production of alternative energy in the next three years." Some of these senators may just be angling for more pork—adding billions in ethanol subsidies to the stimulus bill may satisfy a few corn-state politicians, but it won't do much for the environment. But some of them may have a point, especially on the economics: Paul Krugman, for one, argues today that Obama's stimulus plan is way too meager and too timid to bridge America's "output gap" and put a significant dent in unemployment.

--Bradford Plumer