How do we know this is a cultural battle and not an economic one? Because transit spending is far more fiscally fair than spending on roads and highways. Transit riders subsidize roads to a greater degree than drivers subsidize transit. And cities, which are the chief engines behind the American economy, rely on buses and trains to function. “The economic future for states hinges largely on the performance of their metropolitan economies,” determined a recent Brookings Institution study.
Tea Party leaders know all of this. But they also knew that defunding NPR wouldn’t help balance the budget, and they voted to do it anyway. They knew that by law no federal money can go toward abortion services, yet they voted to defund Planned Parenthood too. The Tea Party is superb at disguising cultural battles as the pursuit of responsible thrift. And mass transit exists at the vortex of many of their No. 1 ideological targets. It’s brilliant, when you think about it.
Defunding transit is how you smack down urbanites, environmentalists, and people of color, all in one fell swoop. It’s how you telegraph a disdain for all things European. It’s how you show solidarity with swing-state suburbanites who don’t understand why their taxes are going toward subways they don’t even use. And it’s how you subtly reassure your base that you’re not concerned about the very poor.