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How the Koch Brothers Are Killing Public Transit Projects Around the Country

Author: HirokoTabuchi. NYT. June 19, 2018

Tuesday 19 June 2018, by Carlos San Juan


Dear readers, When I travel to new cities, either for work or leisure, I like to to get around as much as I can on public transit. That’s taken me on exciting rides on the Los Angeles Metro and the Union Pacific commuter line out of Chicago. The habit was also fitting for my trip to Nashville this year, where I reported on a ballot measure involving a plan to raise taxes to fund a new light rail system, rapid buses and a tunnel for the city. I tweeted about my experience here. The ballot measure was opposed by a group funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, who have made it a mission to fight raising taxes for investment in public transit across the country. In my reporting, I followed the Kochs’ main advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity, whose activists went door to door in a Nashville suburb to urge residents to vote “no” on the plan. I was struck by how sophisticated their canvassing was. This story has been fascinating for me to report. I’m originally from Japan, where public transit is considered vital, like running water or electricity. But for reasons of history, geography, economy and politics, it’s a highly contentious issue in America. I invite you to read the article to find out more, and please let me know what you think. Hiroko Tabuchi hiroko.tabuchi@nytimes.com @HirokoTabuchi on Twitter

Full article: How the Koch Brothers Are Killing Public Transit Projects Around the Country

Supporters of transit investments versus "Americans for Prosperity"

Supporters of transit investments point to research that shows that they reduce traffic, spur economic development and fight global warming by reducing emissions. Americans for Prosperity counters that public transit plans waste taxpayer money on unpopular, outdated technology like trains and buses just as the world is moving toward cleaner, driverless vehicles.

Most American cities do not have the population density to support mass transit, the group says. It also asserts that transit brings unwanted gentrification to some areas, while failing to reach others altogether.

Public transit, Americans for Prosperity says, goes against the liberties that Americans hold dear. “If someone has the freedom to go where they want, do what they want,” Ms. Venable said, “they’re not going to choose public transit.”

The Kochs’ opposition to transit spending stems from their longstanding free-market, libertarian philosophy. It also dovetails with their financial interests, which benefit from automobiles and highways.

One of the mainstay companies of Koch Industries, the Kochs’ conglomerate, is a major producer of gasoline and asphalt, and also makes seatbelts, tires and other automotive parts. Even as Americans for Prosperity opposes public investment in transit, it supports spending tax money on highways and roads.

“Stopping higher taxes is their rallying cry,” said Ashley Robbins, a researcher at Virginia Tech who follows transportation funding. “But at the end of the day, fuel consumption helps them.”

David Dziok, a Koch Industries spokesman, said the company did not control the activities of Americans for Prosperity in specific states and denied that the group’s anti-transit effort was linked to the company’s interests. That notion “runs counter to everything we stand for as a company,” he said.

“Our decisions are based on what is most likely to help people improve their lives, regardless of the policy and its effect on our bottom line,” he said. Koch Industries has opposed steel tariffs, for example, even though the company owns a steel mill in Arkansas, he said.

The group’s Nashville victory followed a roller-coaster political campaign, including a sex-and-spending scandal that led to the mayor’s resignation.

But the results also demonstrate that the Kochs’ political influence has quietly made deep inroads at the local level even as the brothers have had a lower profile in Washington. (This month, Koch Industries said David Koch would step away from his political and business roles because of declining health.)


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