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Okay, Seriously People: Where's The Transit Aid?

A growing flock of economists from the left and right have been arguing that Obama's stimulus plan might actually be too paltry to jolt us out of this economic malaise we're stuck in. So David Leonhardt of The New York Times asked Obama's economic brain trust to explain themselves. Obama's advisors basically countered that it's really, really difficult for the government to spend hundreds of billions of dollars quickly and effectively, while additional tax cuts may not work so well because, after a certain point, it's hardly certain that Americans will wheel around and actually spend their newfound bonanza.

Fine. But Leonhardt then raises a good question that I've never heard the Obama people answer. At the moment, transit agencies from coast to coast are suffering large deficits in their operating budgets, forcing them to cut services, lay off workers, and raise fares—even though ridership levels are hitting record highs. Yet the stimulus package doesn't do much to address these shortfalls (most of the transit spending goes toward big new capital projects). Why not? Giving transit agencies aid to balance their budgets would prevent layoffs, and could even be used to enable fare cuts for buses and trains—a de facto tax break that benefits people likely to spend the extra money. This is spending that Congress could disburse right away, and the whole thing would be terrific from an enviro standpoint. Is there any good reason we're not doing this? I'm genuinely curious.

--Bradford Plumer