"Subsidy" is a word used quite often in transportation policy-making circles, whether by road acolytes who claim (falsely)
that highways are not federally subsidized because of the gas tax or by
transit boosters who lament Washington’s unceasing focus on paying for
more local asphalt.
But the subsidy debate often overlooks the government tax
exemption for workers’ parking expenses. And federal parking subsidies
are skyrocketing, as Subsidyscope revealed yesterday in its data-packed
U.S. transport spending: the value of tax-free parking will reach $3
billion this year, compared with $500 million in subsidies for transit
The imbalance might be corrected if the government
treated parking and transit equally when it came to tax benefits.
Workers can write off a maximum of slightly more than $200 in monthly
parking benefits, while the maximum tax-free value of transit passes is
about $100 less per month.
Subsidyscope, a joint project of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Sunlight Foundation, pored over federal records to produce a searchable database
of transportation spending dating back to the year 2000. Their
researchers’ conclusions found that highways received $30 billion in
federal support last year — more than three times as much as transit,
which got $9 billion.
How much of that $30 billion was a
subsidy? It’s tough to say, according to Subsidyscope, since state DOTs
are not required to report the details of how federal road aid is
distributed. Still, the overwhelming majority of federal transport
programs contain subsidies (see the chart after the jump for more
A more classic example of federal subsidy is
programs that transfer the risk of new projects onto the federal
government. The Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation
Act (TIFIA), which offers
loans to states and localities at a low interest rate, is the transport
sector’s major source of credit subsidies from Washington — and the
majority of TIFIA loans go to highway projects.