by Ryan Avent
One of the benefits of winning a sweeping electoral victory, one might have assumed, would be that when climate change denialist and all around kook James Inhofe starts ranting that what we really need is a lot of new highway spending, we could tell him to go jump in a lake. One might have assumed:
Barbara Boxer and infamous global warming denier James Inhofe will present an amendment to the Senate stimulus plan that could funnel as much as $50 billion in additional funding to highways, Streetsblog has learned. Friends of the Earth tells us that Boxer’s staff confirmed she will introduce the amendment, which could bring the total for highways close to $80 billion, exactly the figure Inhofe demanded last week in a letter to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.
Of course, there are billions of dollars worth of highway repairs that could usefully be done, but Imhofe doesn’t seem as interested in that as in making the stimulus bill worse. Just today, Inhofe helped block an amendment to add highway funding (along with additional money for transit and water projects), because it added to the overall size of the bill. What he’s after is the replacement of other stimulus provisions with $50 billion in highway spending, which is likely to make the stimulus bill worse. Though there are more highway capital projects than transit capital projects that are “shovel-ready,” the number that can quickly be brought online is still quite limited — that, recall, is why the administration surprised observers by including so little infrastructure spending in the first place.
A new report from Todd Litman out of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute makes the point:
Overall, transportation infrastructure investments are not particularly effective short-term economic stimulation expenditures. If the only objective is economic stimulation it would be better to invest in more labor-intensive industries such as medical services, education and public transportation operation. Transportation facility investments are only justified if they reflect strategic objectives and future demands.
I’m not sure what Inhofe’s strategic objectives are, but they’re unlikely to match up with those of the Democratic leadership or the country as a whole. Given that he’ll probably vote against the bill in any case, I can’t see why Barbara Boxer would feel the need to humor Inhofe on this issue, and reduce the effectiveness of the stimulus in the process.