As if it weren’t bad enough that the stimulus legislation is pouring nearly three times as much money into roads as it is into public transit, the Senate decided that what America really needs more of is not just roads, but cars. The Senate stimulus legislation is going to give a massive tax break to people who buy cars. The tax deduction, which will apply to sales taxes and interest payments on auto loans, will cost the rest of us taxpayers $11.5 billion. That’s almost as much as the $13 billion that the final House version contained for mass transit. On top of the road spending, this part of the bill means that the stimulus will ultimately amount to a regressive wealth transfer from people who are too poor to own cars to those who are wealthy enough to drive and especially to people who are wealthy enough to buy new cars. It is also means that the federal government is rewarding an unhealthy environmental behavior, namely driving, which has an adverse impact on our cities, and punishing mass transit use, which is the epitome of good, environmentally friendly behavior. It’s as if Congress either does not appreciate, or does not care about, the fact that climate change is the greatest threat to mankind since the invention of the atom bomb, nor that transportation accounts for one-third of our CO2 emissions. Of course, they also clearly do not appreciate the deleterious impact that driving and highway construction have had on our urban landscape, but I’m not too surprised by that.
Ben Adler is a journalist in New York. He is a former reporter for Grist, The Nation, Newsweek and Politico, and he has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian and The New Republic.