The Corner

Politics & Policy

Pete Buttigieg’s New Slush Fund

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg takes a question during a press briefing about the administration’s response to the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack shut down at the White House in Washington, D.C., May 12, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The $1.2 trillion “infrastructure” bill rammed through the House last Friday includes a gigantic multi-billion-dollar slush fund that will allow the Biden Transportation Department to bypass the states. The Feds will be able to use it to fund efforts to combat climate change and what it claims are “inequities caused by past transportation projects.”

But what does that mean? Buttigieg has endlessly repeated a story from Robert Caro’s book The Power Broker, which describes how New York City urban planner Robert Moses is said to have kept poor blacks and Puerto Ricans from taking buses to Long Island’s Jones Beach.

From The Hill:

Historians such as Robert Caro have directed deserved criticism at Moses, who was an anti-democratic steamroller of an urban planner and one of the worst violators of eminent domain ever seen.

But the specific charge that his urban planning was rooted in racism is a real stretch. As Thomas J. Campanella noted for Bloomberg in 2017:

And contrary to a claim in The Power Broker, Moses clearly meant buses to serve his “little Jones Beach” in the Rockaways — Jacob Riis Park. While oriented mainly toward motorists (the parking lot was once the largest in the world), it is simply not true that New Yorkers without cars were excluded. The original site plan included bus drop-off zones, and photographs from the era plainly show buses loading and unloading passengers. “Bus connections with the B.M.T. and I.R.T. in Brooklyn,” reported the Brooklyn Eagle when the vast seaside playground opened 80 years ago this summer, “make the park easily accessible to non-motorists.”

Steven Malanga of the Manhattan Institute said that the Interstate Highway Program in the 1950s did involve cases where “Planners targeted low-income black neighborhoods because they were easier targets. . . . But it doesn’t necessarily mean that the system was built on widely racist terms.”

Using the cover of a branch of critical race theory, I have no doubt that Secretary Buttigieg will find excuses to use his slush fund to benefit unions and other favored political players whom the Biden administration wants to court. Spending billions upon billions on political projects that are a form of reparations for murky actions that are 70 or more years old is no way to conduct public policy.

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