You’ve GOT to be kidding me …

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Civil rights groups felt the need to weigh in because the [proposed surface transportation reauthorization] bill, among many other things, would result in diminished transportation access to seniors, people with disabilities, communities of color, and low-income families in cities and rural counties across the country.” –from a letter written by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights sent to Rep. John Mica (R-FL), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

OK, by now I’ve heard any number of derogatory comments about the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s proposed six-year surface transportation funding reauthorization bill: “disappointing” is one, “devastating” another, and by Democrats, “The Republican Road to Ruin.”

But to claim this draft potentially tramples on the civil rights of senior citizens and minorities? Oh, please, give me a break.

Yet that is exactly what one noted civil rights organization is doing –claiming in a letter to Rep. John Mica (R-FL), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, that he “is silent on ensuring meaningful civil rights protections in [transportation] project delivery.”

The letter – penned by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights – says that the $230 billion, six-year funding proposal “represents a 35% spending reduction with potentially significant impacts on public transportation, safer walking and bicycling access, road and bridge repair and maintenance, and adequate funding for civil rights protections.”

The group goes on to say that “the overall effects of the spending reduction would leave us short of the necessary amount required to meet rising demand for transit service, especially in this time of severe fiscal constraints. Moreover, the severe reduction in critical transportation programs will disproportionately harm low-income people, people of color, seniors, and people with disabilities who rely heavily on affordable, accessible transportation options.”

OK, now, wait a minute here: last I checked, our nation is collectively flat-out busted broke, to the tune of over $14 trillion (a bill that keeps right on rising.) A lot of folks might not like the idea of limiting spending on transportation to the amounts taken in from taxation (living within our means doesn’t seem to resonate with a lot of people these days) but it’s what you have to do when you’re broke.

Furthermore, the oft-quoted “35% funding cut” being bandied about is more than disingenuous, according to C. Kenneth Orski, a public policy consultant and 30-year veteran transportation expert.

“No doubt, limiting future budget authority to tax revenues flowing into the Highway Trust Fund will necessitate significant cuts in spending [and] a figure of 30% is commonly cited as the expected reduction,” he noted.

“However, current expenditures have been inflated by a massive injection of stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 – a total of $44 billion, including $27.5 billion for highways, $6.8 billion for transit and $8 billion for high-speed rail,” Orski stressed. “A more accurate measure would be to compare the expected FY 2012 funding with pre-stimulus funding levels. In this comparison, the highway program would suffer a drop of 17%.”

Now, I’m not saying it’s pleasant to be contemplating transportation infrastructure funding cuts; even when the figure we’re talking about is 17%. But let’s be realistic here, too: transportation spending in recent decades has ballooned to include non-railroad, non-airport, and non-highway projects, especially the construction of bicycle and walking paths.

And you know, if those are truly needed within a particular local community, pass a sales tax to get it built – don’t go taking money that’s needed for roadway repairs.

(Or, better yet, ask Bill Gates: he wants to change how toilets and sewer systems are designed and built. Maybe he can fund some bike paths with his billions while he’s at it.)

Finally, let’s keep some perspective about transportation funding, too. Civil rights are a serious issue; let’s not raise it when we’re trying to balance transportation’s ledger books, much less that of the nation’s.

For, if anything, saddling future generations with massive amounts of national debt is a huge, glaring violation of civil rights.

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