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Friday: Budget under control? Great. What about mass transit?

The CRRNJ terminal and ferry docks in Jersey City, sitting idle.

The CRRNJ terminal and ferry docks in Jersey City, sitting idle.

Paul Krugman reviews Obama’s budget plans and gives a thumbs up.  Obama’s got his priorities straight, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some problems coming up:

So we have good priorities and plausible projections. What’s not to like about this budget? Basically, the long run outlook remains worrying.

According to the Obama administration’s budget projections, the ratio of federal debt to G.D.P., a widely used measure of the government’s financial position, will soar over the next few years, then more or less stabilize. But this stability will be achieved at a debt-to-G.D.P. ratio of around 60 percent. That wouldn’t be an extremely high debt level by international standards, but it would be the deepest in debt America has been since the years immediately following World War II. And it would leave us with considerably reduced room for maneuver if another crisis comes along.

Furthermore, the Obama budget only tells us about the next 10 years. That’s an improvement on Bush-era budgets, which looked only 5 years ahead. But America’s really big fiscal problems lurk over that budget horizon: sooner or later we’re going to have to come to grips with the forces driving up long-run spending — above all, the ever-rising cost of health care.

And even if fundamental health care reform brings costs under control, I at least find it hard to see how the federal government can meet its long-term obligations without some tax increases on the middle class. Whatever politicians may say now, there’s probably a value-added tax in our future.

The health care funding is the key.  It stops well short of universal however.  Let’s not forget that there’s a hidden tax applied to every working taxpayer to pay for the uninsured. In NJ, that hidden tax is estimated to total  $700,000,000 per year and with more people out of work these days, it’s bound to go up.  That’s why universal healthcare is so important.  Ideally, we want to keep people healthy before they become so sick they end up in the emergency room and the hospital.  It saves us all money in the end.

Krugman expects tax increases on the middle class.  I suppose that is inevitable but I hope that someone is thinking about the millions of us single parents out here who pay taxes at a single rate and even with Head of Household and dependent deductions end up paying more every year in taxes than married people.  I’m sorry, married people, but I think this is unfair.  No one is reducing the cost of living for single people and single parents aren’t spending like there’s no tomorrow, except on the locusts who reside with us and regularly clean out our refrigerators.  Reports of our disposable incomes are greatly exaggerated.

One thing I haven’t heard mentioned is mass transit.

The abandoned CRRNJ station at Belle Mead, NJ

The abandoned CRRNJ station at Belle Mead, NJ

My impression is that it was underfunded but if anyone has a handle on the exact numbers, raise your hand.  Here on the east coast, especially dense NJ, there were a number of commuter rail lines that were abandoned in the 60’s as workers took to their cars.  Now, 40 years later, suburban sprawl has made getting from point A to point B a nightmare.  But the old rail lines are still there.  You can see them on google satlellite maps.In at least one case, the CRRNJ, the terminal station in Jersey city is still there.  It looks like it’s waiting for someone to just flip a switch.  I’m sure there’s a lot more to it than that but with most of the infrastructure already in place, what are the barriers to getting it up and running again?  We could really use it.

What’s your budget priorty?  Let us know in the comments.

45 Responses

  1. Health care and energy policy remain priorities for me. Of course, the economy has been a priority for a long time. I am no economist, but even I could see as of 2000 that things were starting to slide. I didn’t become really worried until a year ago, but I could see people who had been out of work for 2 and 3 years, were off the unemployment rolls, etc. To me, making a humane society that cares for its people is paramount. I don’t care about fighting wars that never should have been in the first place. I wanted a Democratic president who would undo the Bush/Cheney fiasco. I don’t see that. I see some differences and some of the newly proposed budget I like very much. But think cap’n’trade is not a policy; it’s a patch. (Hillary had it too, though.)

  2. I feel like everything is a priority…but I doubt healthcare will will become universal. Transit – definitely a priority. The subway and bus fares in NYC are guaranteed to go up in a few months, even as MTA says they will also have to cut service. Anyone who’s been on a train during rush-hour knows that if you cut service – people will be waiting on that platform for hours hoping to squeeze on. This to me was the biggest flaw in Bloomberg’s noble idea of stopping folks from driving into Manhattan. He never said what he’d do about overcrowding in the subways. We’re already packed in like cattle. Take a couple of trains out of rotation and we might as well walk to work. What’s 10-12 miles?

    • You guys do not realize how good you have it. NYC subway is so cheap and it goes everywhere, I wish all cities could have what you have. Rehash of an old saying: ‘The Subway is soo crowded, no one rides it anymore.”

      • Are you kidding? The NY Subway system is ridiculous compared to the Paris metro or the London underground. We are so far behind civilization it’s not funny.

        • Totally disagree. I have been on both extensively. They are much more expensive and not better. If you were disabled in either London or Paris the system would be useless. NY has major disability issues as well, but not as bad as the other two. Sure we like to complain, but NY transit is the gold standard for my money.

        • Wohhh! The paris metro useless to disabled? Are you kidding? I always travel with public transportation in Europe (my car stays on this side of the Altantic) and I always used the disabled facilities because of my luggages. They are everywhere because it is the law.

          • I agree with Frenchnail. Paris metro is one of the best (and most silent) in the world. London and NY are good.

        • As someone who grew up in the east and worked for commuter services in Phila and NY and Ca. believe me the east coast has much better service. I could take public transit to work no matter what shift I worked.
          Here in Ca because the belief is that you can not get people out of their cars the transit system is not geared to more than a 9am to 5pm mentality.
          My boss and I have a standing disagreement over adding more trains for people that work other than 9am to 5pm.
          If I wanted to go to the Jersey shore from Phila there was no problem by public transportation. If I want to go to the beach from Hemet CA ( inland) I have to drive. Wait until after am rush hour and only be there a short time before leaving to come home to avoid pm rush hour. Unless I stay overnight a trip to the beach is a short one.
          During the 1950s the auto and tire companies got rid of a lot of public transit in CA. Most of it never came back.



      • The subways are relatively cheap, but not cheap. And they don’t quite go everywhere. NYers, though (and NJers who travel into NYC), have among the longest commutes in the US. I think an hour one way is average. It takes me a little over an hour. Imagine being packed like a sardine (oily neighbors included) and battered around for two hours every day.

  3. I think Obama should get busy and fill all the appointments at the Treasury (and HHS?). Geithner is apparently all on his own with almost no help.



    • Obama has the entire media in his back pocket, I don’t think he feels that he needs anyone else’s help.

  4. What little I’ve read of the budget sounds good to me too. Mass transit seems key to reducing oil dependence. It will also allow aging drivers (like me) to get around and off the highways. Reducing traffic congestion and wear and tear on our highways would be good also.

    • As Dakinikat wrote yesterday, we’ll have to wait and see what items Obama compromises or backs down completely on.

    • My point is that it may not cost as much as they think if they revive these old commuter rail lines. It’s not like they have to start from scratch.

      • Oh, economical, cost effective, pollution reducing? Maybe we should try some of that.

      • I believe there’s an entire abandoned NYC subway system. Or is that just a myth?

      • In our area the rails would have to be shared with freight service. That could be problematic. The rail companies would insist their freight get priority and that would decrease dependability for passenger service. There is some discussion of getting light rail service out here sometime in the next 10 years.

  5. Healthcare, just yesterday I got three statements from labs, etc. all of these were regarding the same procedure, none had been paid. I had already called my insurance company regarding this and was asked if it was pre-existing. Since it was not pre-existing, they paid only the one I was calling about. I called again yesterday regarding the new bills and was told I would have to call on each and every bill regarding this procedure. They can’t just use deductive reasoning and pay the bills that all occurred on a certain date, OH NO, maybe they will get lucky and I will miss one and they wont have to pay it. It is a bunch of BS and really p!sses me off. Oh and if I don’t get this payment released in time, goes on my credit report because they are so damn slow. ARRRRGGHHH!!

    • My sister got this loong itemized bill from the hospital. It had charges back to l997 and claimed that her insurance company had not paid them and it was her responsibility. It was complete BS, how is she supposed to challenge stuff from l997. She however, has serious health issues and does not want to get the dr and hospital ‘mad’. The charges were all a few dollars and some were credits, it ended up being about $100. I hate the fact that she felt she had no option but paying it or spending days fighting it.

  6. My point is that it may not cost as much as they think if they revive these old commuter rail lines.

    We’ll need mass transit when cars become “affordable housing”

    • when that happens you just show up @ an Obama town hall event, arrange to be in the front row, catch his attention and Voila! free house; and yes you get to keep the car too

  7. My only problems w/ Obama’s health care plans are that he targets children only–if parents are sick, they can’t help the kids; and he wants to make cuts in Medicare (not that I understand all of these, but why?). Isn’t adult and esp. elder health important too? But I am still glad to see the US putting this on the table, so we can stop acting like we are 3rd world country when it comes to health care. People should not have to fight with insurance companies when they are sick.

    • And cuts in Medicade. And I don’t think “elder care” is a priority from what I have been reading as “someone” will be making judgments about whether procedures for elderly patients will be “cost effective”.

      I also don’t like the program of putting my private information in a computer system that anyone can access. Employers can pre-screen applicants for illnesses that might cost them, not just for health care but taking time off when ill . It would make the Disabilities Act moot. No one needs access to health files except the doctor and insurance company (if you have one). If they can steal credit card numbers off the net; they can certainly open medical files.

      Wish we knew as much about our government as they know about us because the one thing I got from the 2008 selection of Barry Soertoro, aka Barack Obama, was not to trust what they say and to carefully watch what they do. And this patchwork program isn’t “visionary” and it isn’t Hillary’s Clinton’s so beware of this health care pig in a poke he’s trying to sell us.

  8. Does anyone know what these Medicare cuts and “changes” are?

    I’ve heard it mentioned several times on several shows but no one has really said just what they are cutting. I’m getting the feeling they don’t want us to know. Right now most supplements to Medicare are indluded in the cost for Medicare, which is not free. Are they going to start charging for the supplements? What are they cutting out? This seems like a very big thing and it is never explained except to say, “See, don’t worry about the deficit, we’re cutting costs.”

    On old people’s health, since old people might as well die, anyway, so that will save money on Social Security?

    • Reportedly, everything is on the table with health care. Obama has proposed amounts but not policies–that is left to Congress. They already passed the computerization reforms that he wanted in the stimulus package. Medicare already doesn’t pay for that much. Without an expensive supplement the coverage is really bare bones.

      • Ding, ding, ding! Therein lies the rub. He wants enough money to figure out a plan that appeases everybody 10 years from now, and everybody goes, “yay!” I don’t get it.

      • I have a friend in her seventies who has an unusual neurological disease that was very hard to diagnose. She had to see lots of doctors and have lots of tests. She was very impressed with the Medicare coverage, although she has an AARP supplement that costs about $100 a month (in addition to the $100 a month for the basic coverage. You also have no choice, have to choose Medicare once you are 65, so if they start cutting that, or raising premiums, it’s same as cutting Social Security. I’m getting the feeling they will try to push that through without announcing anything specific, maybe make it confusing, like what they did with Part D, which Hillary was fighting against. I still don’t know what really happened there, but know it wasn’t good, and would have been worse if not for Hillary.

    • My understanding ot this budget is that the cuts made are mainly cuts on Bush’s administration projections for the war in Iraq which were inflated to start with and which will not happen as we plan to get out in 19 months. So that means that the cuts are not in real dollars but on projected spending.

      • Obama is still going to ask for war money in a supplemental. It will reportedly be $800 billion. He said he wasn’t going to continue the Bush accounting methods, but I guess he is.

  9. Off health care, but re: affordable housing and unemployment: Sacramento now has a tent city. On the news last night they showed the line of people at a job fair in Ft. Lauderdale wrapping around the block. Two weeks ago a Florida town was declared the poorest in the country by the NYT and there were bread lines. These images scream Great Depression. Why was dismantling the New Deal and the Great Society a good thing? Could someone please tell me again how it made us a lazy society so we are better off having no safety net, so we work til we die even if we are sick cuz it’s good for us. I can’t hear that enough; it still hasn’t stuck. Obama and even Susan Estrich apparently think only some people known as “deserving homeowners” need help. I know if I ever lose my job it will be b/c I deserve to, b/c that’s how it is in America. You deserve what you get… unless you work on Wall Street. Then your job loss is a Grecian tragedy.

  10. This budget contains at least one black hole for money to support the Wall St banksters. I’d love to get dakinikat’s take on this but I haven’t noticed any “net” cost items in the federal budget before.


    Word on the street today is that the Obama administration’s proposed budget includes a $250 “placeholder” for support of the financial system. (ht Economics of Contempt, Calculated Risk) President Obama made an admirable commitment “to restoring a sense of honesty and accountability to our budget”. However, his administration has failed to live up to that commitment with respect to financial system support. Unusually for government expenditures, the budgeted $250 billion dollars represents an estimated “net cost”. It presumes recovery of a substantial fraction of funds “invested” and actually enables cash payments that might amount to $750B. (See EoC, Marc Ambinder.). In plain English, buried in a $3.55 trillion dollar budget as a $250 billion dollar placeholder is a plan to more than double the controversial and unpopular TARP program, whose original enactment nearly tore the political system apart.

    Seems like another massive con on the taxpayers to me.

  11. Krugman plays down the interest expense on the national debt. He says every trillion over budget will only add another 40 billion to debt service. But if you take the total current public debt of 5 trillion, that’s a 240 billion interest item in the annual budget. If you add the additional debt incurred from the financial rescue, that could take annual debt service up to 300 billion. If you add the interest expense for intra-governmental debt (the trust funds), that would take annual debt service up to 500 billion. That’s close to 20% of the Federal Budget.

    In the coming years, that interest expense on the total national debt is expected to grow significantly. So reducing the deficit in the near term is important. Paying down the national debt in the long term is important. How the government manages to do that as it endeavors to rescue and rebuild the financial system, while at the same time not unfairly burdening the working and middle class, that will be a challenge.

  12. Charles Krauthammer yesterday was saying that the premises for the all budget was based on an 3.6% gross when we would be lucky to stay flat, but more likely to still be in recession. Same things for the future years.

  13. Well, at least we’ve got an energy plan that includes nano-generators! Seriously, it’s true!!!! New Hampster is in charge of this policy!!

    However, some people fear unionization, which might upset the sheep that pass wind…

    Obama Energy Plan Includes Nano-Generators That Bite


  14. Ah, re: NJ health insurance, the “uninsured” pool….which nearly broke me 7 years ago….COMMUNITY RATED….nice idea, but it got to the point where even with a HUGE deductible, it was still incredibly expensive. That was 7 years ago…My premiums were already approching $6-7000 then….

    I can’t imagine what they would be now!!

    Thanks for the pics of JC and Belle Meade!

    Any trains passing through Monmoth Jct yet? NAH, they let the builders build houses near the tracks –which is too unsafe for any train to pass through these days (So, who was the genius who screwed using the trackss by this type of zoning???)….but they won’t build Rte 92 either, so there’s no way to get across Central Jersey. Oh, Route 1 must be a pleasure now….

  15. From the state with the second most extensive highway system after california, I’d love to see mass transit come to NC, especially the Triangle area which has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 20 years and sorely needs it. I won’t hold my breath though. Every year the regional transit authority makes pie in the sky suggestions only to be shot down by the feds. I haven’t heard that any stimulus money will be going towards that either, just more roadway projects. But even that work won’t help our cities. A lot of us thought some of that money would go towards completing the 540 beltline. Nope. mostly bridges and such in far flung counties. Of course this is what I get from local media, so it could be all wrong…..

  16. If I were to use local public transit to get to work, for example, it would take me 2 hours each way (my drive is 25 minutes) and would cost more than the gas, even when it was almost $4 a gallon.

    • Gary, I take the bus to/from work here in Clt. Driving takes at least 30 minutes (can be much more if there’s an accident anywhere along the route), the bus only about 20. I love it!

  17. GCH:

    Didja know that West Virginia has the best highways in the nation?

    Robert Byrd chairs the Senate Appropriations committee.

  18. when my family lived in blacksburg VA and I was in grad school in Kentucky, I used to drive through WVA regularly, and they do have some nice roads. And the WVA turnpike, at $1.75 for the whole length is a bargain.

  19. Byrd knew how to get some pork. Interstate 68 is a joy. When I was traveling it 3-4 years ago, there was little traffic.

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