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Posts from the "Bill Shuster" Category

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Shuster “Encouraged” By Obama’s Transportation Funding Announcement

Bill Shuster is still digesting yesterday’s twin funding proposals from President Obama and Ways and Means Chair Dave Camp, but he’s “encouraged” by what he’s heard. Both proposals rely on corporate tax reform to plug the hole in the highway trust fund. Camp’s proposal would raise about $125 billion; Obama’s, $150 billion. Neither has yet released details on how their plans would work.

T&I Chair Bill Shuster wants to "build on" the reforms in MAP-21. Photo: ##http://www.heraldstandard.com/election/shuster-supports-romney-in-gop-primary/article_ba7064fe-de09-5e42-b291-e95983b33a45.html##Herald-Standard##

T&I Chair Bill Shuster wants to “build on” the reforms in MAP-21. Photo: Herald-Standard

“I never thought some of these other ideas were ever going to be in the cards,” the House Transportation Committee chair told reporters this afternoon.

Speaking today at the annual Washington meeting of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), Shuster said he was hoping to get a surface transportation reauthorization bill done this summer. Sen. Barbara Boxer has put her committee’s timeline at mid- to late-spring, using August as a deadline, when federal highway funds are expected to run out. The current MAP-21 bill expires September 30, and Shuster is using that as his deadline.

Shuster told AASHTO that he’s committed to a “fiscally responsible” bill that doesn’t engage in deficit spending, and that he hopes to “build on the reforms in MAP-21,” some of which haven’t even been implemented yet.

“He kind of implied that we’re done with reform,” commented Joshua Schank of the Eno Center for Transportation after Shuster’s remarks. “I don’t think we’re done with reform by a long shot.”

Schank’s primary objection to the status quo is that too much money is distributed by formula and not by merit. And funding transportation with corporate tax reform could potentially open the system up to more discretionary grant programs, Schank said, which would be a positive development. The most innovative transportation work — TIGER, New Starts — happens with general fund money, he said.

“The problem with destroying the user-pay model is that you potentially put funding in jeopardy all the time and you constantly have to go back and find new sources of funding,” Schank said. “But the benefit is, I think there’s a much better chance of reforming how we spend it — making it more multimodal in distribution — if it’s not just coming from highway users.”

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T&I Chair Bill Shuster Complicates Matters With Push for VMT Fee

All options may be on the table for funding transportation, but Bill Shuster has chosen his.

Rep. Bill Shuster’s choice to bring more transportation funding may be the most effective long-term, but in the short term, its prospects are dim. Photo: Bloomberg

Rep. Shuster, head of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, hasn’t been willing to commit to any one proposal for funding transportation until now. And his choice may make things complicated.

At a Bloomberg Government event yesterday, Shuster came out in favor of a plan to tax drivers not per gallon but per mile.

It seemed that after years of being too gun-shy to raise the gas tax, which hasn’t gone up for 20 years, there was beginning to be some resignation to the idea that it was necessary. In addition to the usual chorus from industry, a bipartisan group of governors recently urged Congress to act. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and his new co-chair at Building America’s Future, former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, are promoting a 10-cent tax hike.

Lawmakers who had previously declined to go on the record were starting to line up behind various proposals, with Rep. Earl Blumenauer suggesting a gas tax hike and Sen. Barbara Boxer offering a wholesale fee on oil.

After all, the bitter reality is this: U.S DOT’s new Highway Trust Fund web ticker says the Highway Account will go dry in August of this year, with the Transit Account staying solvent through the end of September, though just barely.

At the same time Shuster announced he was for a vehicle-miles-traveled fee, he also brought the hammer down on the idea of a gas tax hike.

“Economically, it is not the time” to raise the gas tax, he told the audience. “I just don’t believe the American people have the will out there, in the public or in Congress; even our president has said we’re not going to do that. We’ve got to figure out a different way at this point in time.”

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Brother of T&I Chair Bill Shuster Hired to Lobby (Yes, Lobby) Against Transit

In addition to some recent high-profile spins through the revolving door, we now have a new example of ethically questionable influence peddling in Washington: A powerful Congressman’s brother working to bring down a transit line in Maryland.

Robert Shuster, brother of the most powerful Congressman on transportation issues, is a hired gun working to block transit in Maryland. Photo: ##http://www.bipc.com/robert-l-shuster/#Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney##

Robert Shuster, brother of the most powerful Congressman on transportation issues, is a hired gun working to block transit in Maryland. Photo:

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) wields the gavel of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee — a post his father held, with great success, before him. Now Shuster’s brother, Robert, has been hired by the town of Chevy Chase, Maryland, to help them oppose the construction of a light-rail line.

The Purple Line concept has been under development since 1989, with the state beginning work in earnest in early 2008. The principal opponent to the line — the Columbia Country Club — has dropped its opposition and promised not to bring any lawsuits as a result of a deal to adjust the route.

The Purple Line has faced countless obstacles and defeated them all. Rep. Shuster’s brother now has $20,000 a month of Chevy Chase’s taxpayer dollars to try to come up one the transit line can’t overcome.

According to the Washington Post, Chevy Chase hired Robert Shuster’s law firm last month, so far paying a total of $40,000 for two months. The town council is now deciding whether to move from a month-to-month arrangement to an 18-month contract, still for $20,000 a month.

The Post notes that the firm, Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney, lists Robert Shuster as one of four lawyers on the project.

No worries, though: Shuster won’t be lobbying. The Post quotes Mayor Pat Burda as saying she didn’t even know about the Shuster connection when she first contacted the law firm, and that the town is focused on the Federal Transit Administration, not Congress. She said it in no uncertain terms: “We’re not lobbying Congress.”

But the pro-Purple Line Action Committee for Transit has found a Congressional lobbying disclosure form from Shuster’s firm that “states explicitly that Shuster and his partners are lobbying the House of Representatives and Senate for the Town of Chevy Chase.” The form says Shuster and two others will be lobbying on urban development, transportation and “government issues.”

“I do not and will not lobby my brother,” Robert Shuster pledged in a statement to the Post. But whether or not Shuster lobbies his brother may be beside the point. A Shuster calling up a member of Congress is going to get his phone call answered, and “in Washington, that’s your first goal,” said Purple Line advocate Tracey Johnstone.

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Vitter: Sure, Raise the Gas Tax — Just as Long as You Don’t Raise More Money

Well here’s a sobering thought: Transit advocates, cyclists and the road lobby have the same talking points these days. All anyone is talking about is how to rescue the Highway Trust Fund from its own fiscal cliff.

Sen. David Vitter, the ranking Republican on EPW, is in favor of raising the gas tax only if it doesn't actually yield more revenue. Photo by T. Carter Ross, NAPA

I attended yesterday’s “Asphalt Fly-In,” the National Asphalt Pavement Association’s first-ever Washington legislative conference. If I went in expecting to hear outrageous things about starving out transit and bike/ped or eliminating the last remaining environmental safeguards, I came out disappointed. The only eyebrow-raising moment was the off-color joke some asphalt lobbyist opened with. It was, at least, extremely off-color.

While asphalt lobbyists want more cash to widen highways and build roads to nowhere, and reformers just want to make sure that limited funding doesn’t squeeze out things like transit and bike/ped projects entirely, it all comes down to the same demand.

House Transportation Committee Chair Bill Shuster told the asphalt industry representatives that while it’s hard for lawmakers to agree on anything when it comes to taxes, “when they talk about revenues, the one area of revenues that seems to brings them together, or at least makes them talk, are revenues when it comes to the transportation system.”

But that doesn’t mean finding a solution will be easy.

Sen. David Vitter, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said he understands that the current limitations on the Highway Trust Fund are just “an accident of history” and need to be revisited — presumably by raising the gas tax.

“Somehow it’s a core conservative principle that whatever is there now as the current federal gas tax, that’s it and that’s written in stone that Moses brought down from the mountain,” Vitter said. He added that he’s “open to updating that financing system” but here’s the catch — it can’t be a “net tax increase for middle-class taxpayers.”

That means any gas tax increase needs to be “offset” by other tax reductions. So essentially what Vitter is arguing for is just another bailout — moving money around within the federal budget, beefing up one pot while shrinking another. Where would it come from? “That’s the $64,000 question,” he said. The only new revenue he would support without an offset would be from oil drilling — an option Shuster also highlighted in his remarks.

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Shuster Pre-empts Devolutionists With Defense of Federal Role

New House Transportation Committee Chair Bill Shuster (R-PA) clearly knows he’s got some devolutionist conservatives in his caucus (and on his committee). While many Republicans would like to see the federal government get out of the business of infrastructure and just let the states raise and spend their own money, Shuster has always been clear that he is in favor of a strong federal role.

Before the session gets underway, Transportation Committee Chair Bill Shuster wants to make one thing clear. Photo: PoliGu

He likes to remind conservatives that Adam Smith, the godfather of free-enterprise capitalism himself, argued that there were three essential functions of government–security, justice and transportation. He notes that many Republican presidents have overseen massive infrastructure expansion, and that the work continues.

So Shuster is devoting the first committee hearing of the session to clarifying his view that the work of the committee is not just to channel all decisions and funds down to the states. Before anything else — before anyone on the committee has a chance to undermine the very purpose of the committee — Shuster hopes to dispense with that entire line of argument.

So next Wednesday’s hearing, entitled “The Federal Role in America’s Infrastructure,” will give a platform to three of the most vocal advocates of increased federal infrastructure spending: U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue, Building America’s Future Co-Chair and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, and Laborers’ International Union of North America President Terry O’Sullivan all have been invited to testify.

They’ll have a lot of minds to change. The lobby for devolution to the states is growing, and not just among conservatives. Rohit Aggarwala — former director of long-term panning and sustainability for New York City and now top advisor to the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group — made the same case a few weeks ago in a Bloomberg News op-ed.

“Every bipartisan commission that has studied the situation has advocated raising the [gas] tax, but a polarized Congress has been unable to do it,” Aggarwala wrote. “A strong, smart, well-funded federal program would be great. But if Congress can’t pass one now, it should just get itself out of the way, by eliminating the federal gas tax entirely and cutting Washington’s role in surface transportation. It would streamline government. And it would probably lead to more investment in infrastructure and greener transportation policies.”

Shuster and Aggarwala have flipped traditional roles, with the green sustainability leader now calling for Washington to get out of the transportation biz and the conservative rural Republican defending the importance of federal involvement.

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It’s Official: Bill Shuster Named Transportation Committee Chair

Meet your new T&I chair. Photo: Daily American

Republicans met today to choose committee chairs, and Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) has been placed at the head of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The former chair, John Mica, dropped his request yesterday to stay on as chair despite term limits.

You can read all about Shuster’s record on rail and bike/ped issues in these recent posts.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) highlighted Shuster’s right-wing cred in his statement on the selection: “In Bill Shuster, House Republicans have selected a strong conservative leader with a record of reform and a proven commitment to strengthening our nation’s infrastructure.”

Shuster himself just thanked his colleagues for the honor.

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Mica Drops Chairmanship Bid, Endorses Shuster

Rep. John Mica's chairmanship of T&I is almost over. Photo: That's My Congress

Rep. John Mica (R-FL) has withdrawn from the running to remain chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He was up against Republican term limits, which specify that no Congressmember can spend more than six years as the highest-ranking member of their party on a committee — regardless of whether that time is spent as chair of the committee (while their party is in the majority) or as ranking member (when in the minority).

Mica had been in conversations with House Speaker John Boehner about getting a waiver, as Rep. Paul Ryan did, allowing him to stay at the helm of the Budget Committee. But it wasn’t looking likely. So Mica did the gentlemanly thing: He pulled out and threw his support to Rep. Bill Shuster, the chair of the Rail Subcommittee, who was also jockeying for the hot seat. Politico reported the news this morning.

“Bill has served in two Subcommittee leadership positions,” Mica wrote in his letter to Boehner, “and has both the experience and ability to assume this important position for our Conference.”

Streetsblog recently reported on Shuster’s record on rail and bike/ped issues.

In his letter, Mica acknowledged that the Republican Conference had recently upheld the decision to withhold all term-limit waivers except for Ryan’s, and its decision to continue counting Ranking Member service toward the six-year limit.

Mica says he’ll stay on the Transportation Committee, and hopes to take over the chairmanship of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee in two years.

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Will the Next Transpo Chair Continue Attacks on Bike/Ped Funding?

This is the second of two posts examining Rep. Bill Shuster’s candidacy for the chairmanship of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Yesterday, we took a look at Shuster’s positions on rail and his leadership style. Here we delve into his record on active transportation and the always-thorny topic of funding.

Legendary wheeler-dealer Bud Shuster got emotional when his son, Bill, took his seat in Congress. The younger Shuster now stands to take his father's old place at the helm of the House Transportation Committee. Photo: Gary Baranec/Altoona Mirror

While you might not agree with him that privatization is the best medicine for a struggling passenger rail program, by most accounts Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) has a genuine interest in the future of rail in America. It’s hard to make the case that he cares nearly as much about making streets safe for walking and biking.

Bike Paths Kill!

Indeed, perhaps the most alarming aspect of a Bill Shuster chairmanship is what it would mean for progress on street safety. Shuster is no friend of the movement to make American cities and towns more bikeable and walkable.

He fell in line with the Republican army against Transportation Enhancements, a program that mostly funded bike/ped projects under the previous transportation law. “Not everybody uses a bike path,” Shuster said at the time. He chafed at what others in his party called “set-asides,” saying, “That’s for [the] community to decide, not for our federal government to sit up here in Washington and decide.” He claimed that eliminating TE was “fundamental to the reforms that we are trying to include in this bill.”

Indeed, Shuster’s conviction that transportation is a federal responsibility ends at the interstate. “When you start getting into the inner city, the federal government has less of a role to play,” he told an audience at the Transportation Research Board’s annual conference in January, ignoring the fact that much interstate spending is used to provide capacity for local car trips on highways. “It’s up to the local community and state to decide [their transportation priorities].”

His position that federal transportation dollars should be “focused like a laser [yes, one of his favorite phrases] on the national highway system” alarmed the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, which issued an action alert to Pennsylvania voters when Shuster was appointed to the conference committee negotiating the final surface transportation bill. RTC noted that during his official conference statement, Shuster “regrettably… call[ed] out ‘bike paths’ as wasteful, even dangerous.”

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What Kind of Leadership Would Bill Shuster Bring to the Transpo Committee?

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) could be the next chair of the House Transportation Committee. Photo: Office of Rep. Bill Shuster.

This is the first of two posts examining Rep. Bill Shuster’s candidacy for the chairmanship of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. We’ll post the second one, focused on his positions on bike/ped programs and funding issues, tomorrow.

Over the next few weeks, we could see a shake-up on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the House. Current Chair John Mica (R-FL) has been the top Republican on the committee for six years, and according to GOP rules, that’s the limit. While Mica is asking leadership for a little wiggle room, his deputy is making the case for his own candidacy. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) announced late last week that he would seek the chairmanship.

If that name rings a bell, it may be because his father was a legend on Capitol Hill. Evoke Bud Shuster’s name in Washington and you’ll hear story after story of the deal-making he pulled off when he chaired the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure from 1995 to 2001. He brought home more bacon to his district in rural Pennsylvania than it could even handle, according to a profile that ran in the National Journal as his Congressional career came to an end.

Bill Shuster took over his father’s seat in Congress in 2001, and soon joined the committee his father presided over. Now he could take over his dad’s gavel, too, when the new Congress is seated in January.

Mica is meeting with Republican leaders this week to discuss the possibility of getting a waiver to the six-year rule. Rep. Paul Ryan is expected to receive such a waiver, so that he can go on serving at the helm of the Budget Committee. But does Ryan’s exception mean Mica will get one too? Unlikely. Last spring, rumors circulated that Republican leaders were fed up with Mica’s inability to pass a transportation bill and were looking to Shuster to step in. Those rumors were somewhat overblown, but may indicate that leaders aren’t looking for two more years of John Mica at the gavel of T&I.

Shuster, meanwhile, has excellent relationships with House GOP honchos. And as chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, he put his own stamp on the reauthorization process. He, with Mica, inserted a highly contentious “red meat” provision (later dropped) to privatize Amtrak’s profitable Northeast Corridor service, and he supported the inclusion of automatic approval for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

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