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Posts from the "Peter DeFazio" Category

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UPDATE: Reminder: Amtrak Subsidies Pale in Comparison to Highway Subsidies

UPDATED 9/24 with chart.

House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica continued his “holy jihad” against Amtrak yesterday, holding the third full-committee hearing in a series on “Reviewing Amtrak’s Operations.” He’s planning at least three more hearings during the lame duck session after the election.

House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica is on a "holy jihad" to curb Amtrak's subsidies. Image: C-SPAN

Mica went after subsidies in this one, and he clearly thinks this is a winning issue. After all, Amtrak has gotten nearly $1 billion a year in federal funds over its 41-year existence. The per-ticket subsidy over the past five years has averaged nearly $51. Mica compared that to other forms of transportation: Using 2008 data, he showed that the average per-ticket subsidy to aviation was $4.28, for mass transit was 95 cents, and for intercity commercial bus service 10 cents.

What’s missing? Highways, of course. Luckily, Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman was on hand to remind him. “In the past four years, the federal government has appropriated $53.3 billion from the general fund of the Treasury to bail out the Highway Trust Fund,” Boardman told the committee. “That’s almost 30 percent more than the total federal expenditure on Amtrak since 1971.”

Considering that about 20 percent of the Highway Trust Fund goes to transit, that’s still more for highways alone over the past four years than Amtrak has ever gotten.

Meanwhile, Amtrak affirmed this week that the rail line covers 85 percent of its operating costs with ticket sales and other revenues [PDF].

Mica did acknowledge in his opening remarks that “almost all forms of transportation are underwritten by subsidies” but didn’t mention roads, despite the massive subsidies road builders receive.

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Transpo Bill Rumor: DeFazio Says Conference Committee ‘Gutted’ Bike/Ped

Here’s the latest transpo bill news that has filtered through the tight little seams in the armor around the conference committee.

Rep. DeFazio reports that there's a "deal" in the works to allow road widening to go forward, free of pesky things like public comments or environmental reviews. Photo: WyEast

First of all, the House voted last night on the two motions to instruct we mentioned last week: Rep. Diane Black’s criminally bad idea to cancel out important incentives for states to enact distracted driver laws, and Rep. Steny Hoyer’s pretty reasonable request that the House just vote on the Senate bill already.

Knowing what you know of the way Congress is working these days, I bet you know which one passed and which one failed.

That’s right, Hoyer’s motion failed 172 to 225, and Rep. Black’s plan to let more people die so that teens can text passed 201-194. O democracy, you are a cruel master. The good thing is that none of this is binding, as is evidenced by the fact that the House gave its thunderous approval to a motion to wrap up work by last Friday and it’s now Wednesday and, uh, there is no wrap on this work.

Which brings us to the next two MTIs the House will consider. One is from Rep. Mark Critz (D-PA) exhorting the conference to finish work by tomorrow, since they crashed their previous deadline. That motion will be voted on… tomorrow.

And Rep. Janice Hahn (D-CA) has a motion to preserve the language in the Senate bill creating a national freight program, complete with a strategic plan and policy, including goals to reduce environmental impacts, improve state of good repair, and improve the economic efficiency of the freight network. If there’s a way to kill such a sensible motion, I’m sure the House will find it. The freight program, we hear, has been one of many points of contention in the conference.

Hahn is also sponsoring a “Dear Colleague” letter urging her fellow lawmakers to support the Cardin-Cochran language in the Senate bill, allowing for some local control of federal dollars for transportation projects that make streets safer for walking and biking. The letter is co-authored by fellow California Democrat Lois Capps.

Meanwhile, Rep. Peter DeFazio, a stalwart champion of biking and walking, says he’s seenvery specific language there that they’ve gutted enhancements.” Whether it’s called Transportation Enhancements, Additional Activities, or Transportation Alternatives, he’s referring to the pot of money that funds bike/ped projects. DeFazio told Politico there’s bad news for environmental and community protections, too:
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Why Create an Infrastructure Bank When We Could Just Expand TIFIA?

There’s been a lot of adulation heaped upon the TIFIA loan program lately. Both houses of Congress are ready to increase funding for the program nine times over, from $100 million to $1 billion a year – despite warnings from outside groups that there may not be enough eligible projects to use up all that money.

The Staten Island Ferry has gotten some TIFIA funding. Some say an expanded TIFIA would do everything an infrastructure bank would do, but others say it wouldn't allow for large-scale community planning. Photo: SI Ferry

The TIFIA program has been around since 1998 but money pressures have led to a steep uptick in applications over the past few years. Some have criticized it for its lack of transparency in decision-making and suggested that it might be more effective housed outside of USDOT and functioning independently.

“Is TIFIA the first perfect federal program?”

Nevertheless, Congressional Republicans have thrown their full support behind the program, mainly as a counterweight to the president’s proposed infrastructure bank. Consistent with their desire to limit the growth of the federal bureaucracy, they resist the idea of creating an entirely new entity, even though the bank would be independent from the government, a la the Export-Import Bank.

There are two competing infrastructure bank bills in the Senate and a new one introduced earlier this week in the House. The Senate is planning to vote next week on a bill to spend $50 billion on infrastructure with another $10 billion in seed money for a bank – pieces of President Obama’s jobs bill, which has been dismembered for separate votes. Next week’s bill isn’t expected to pass. Indeed, many members think TIFIA is the way to go.

At a House Transportation Committee hearing earlier this month, nearly every Republican present spoke out in favor of expanding TIFIA instead of creating a new bank. Chair John Mica asked why a bank was needed when “we have a successful example” in TIFIA.

One of the things that the infrastructure bank can do is enter into long-term relationships with people who have decade-plus-long plans. They’re trying to finance a plan. What Washington knows how to do is finance a segment of a project. The current TIFIA process does not allow us to do that.

- Roy Kienitz

Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chair John Duncan (R-TN) went as far as to ask, “Is TIFIA the first perfect federal program?” He noted, “Everyone has had glowing comments about TIFIA, and it’s a program that I support as well.”

Geoffrey Yarema of Nossaman LLP (a law firm specializing in public-private partnerships for infrastructure projects) told Duncan TIFIA wasn’t perfect but that it did have 12 years of solid experience. He suggested it be “right-sized” by adding staff and he wants to “change it from a discretionary decision-making process that has the potential for being politicized – and some would say the reality of being politicized – to a first-come-first-served program.”

That change, however, would eliminate the part of TIFIA reformers like most: The fact that it has the power to encourage innovation and goal-oriented, performance-based strategic transportation planning.

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House Passes Transportation Extension Unanimously

Well, that wasn’t so hard.

House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica holds up a list of the 21 previous extensions of the aviation program.

The GOP-led House just approved a six-month extension of the transportation law. After about 45 minutes of debate, the chair called for a voice vote, and no one objected. In this way, a unanimous consent vote might be even easier to pass than a vote under “suspended rules” which require a two-thirds margin, because in this case, all members were not called back to the chamber to vote. The only people voting were the ones in the chamber at the time.

Of course, any member who was determined to oppose the bill could have made sure to be in the chamber. But if every member of the House had been called to vote on the measure, it would have been more likely to have at least one dissenter.

During the debate, members bickered over whether the FAA shutdown was the Democrats’ fault or the Republicans’ fault; whether the stimulus had enough money for infrastructure and whether it was spent well; whether it’s appropriate to cut infrastructure spending. But no one rose to object to a clean extension right now.

I would be remiss if I didn’t reprint, word for word, Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio’s impassioned – and highly partisan – speech in favor of higher overall spending levels. In the past, he’s often argued for more spending specifically for transit, but it appears he’s altered his message to appeal to the highway people too. Note that he’s asking not just for funding levels higher than the House’s idea of a 30 percent cut, but higher even than this extension, which keeps spending at current levels.

Here’s a video of DeFazio’s speech; transcribed after the jump are some highlights.

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Mica Presses for Policy Ideas at Vancouver Hearing on Next Transpo Bill

Cross-posted from BikePortland

At the outset of the “listening session” on the next long-term transportation bill in Vancouver yesterday, House Transportation and Infrastructure committee chair John Mica tried to make it clear that he wanted to talk about crafting legislation, not specific projects. Unfortunately not everyone got the message.

Photo: Jonathan Maus

In his opening remarks, Mica told the overflow crowd of about 120 people (with at least twice that many waiting outside), that he didn’t want to debate specific local or regional projects. “That is not the purpose of this meeting,” he said, “We’re not going to entertain specific project recommendations.” The purpose of the meeting was only to “solicit ideas on how we can craft legislation.” Mentioning specific projects was meaningless, Mica told the crowd, since Congress is “not taking earmarks.” The projects instead, he said, will be set by policy, “and you have the opportunity today to help us in that regard.”

Before handing the mic over to his colleagues, Mica said something that should please active transportation and transit advocates.

We’re under the sixth extension of the highway, as it’s sometimes referred to, or transportation bill, which would be more accurate since it’s a multi-modal policy setting bill.

Sitting around Mica were fellow members of Congress and a host of regional transportation bigwigs. Senior member of the House T & I Committee Peter DeFazio (D-OR) was there, as were other members of the committee — Jamie Herrera Beutler (R-WA) and Bill Shuster (R-PA). The panel also included ODOT rep Don Wagner, WashDOT Secretary Paula Hammond, Chanda Brown from Oregon Iron Works, Clark County Public Works Director Peter Capell, a rep from Associated General Contractors, and others.

Despite Mica’s calls to not discuss specific projects, a large portion of the hearing was devoted to discussing the Columbia River Crossing project. Other major themes of the meeting were jobs creation, the impact of environmental regulations on project timelines, the pros and cons (thanks to Rep. DeFazio) of public private partnerships as a revenue stream, more local control of project decisions, and how to “do more with less.”

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With Oberstar Gone, Who Will Lead the Democrats on T & I Committee?

The Wall Street Journal has put out some thoughts about who might take up Jim Oberstar’s mantle now that he’s lost his seat by the narrowest of margins. (He would have lost the chairmanship in any case, since control of Congress flipped to the Republicans, but he would have been the ranking Democrat on the committee.) Will the spirit of bipartisanship that governed Oberstar’s relationship with his ranking member, Rep. John Mica, continue now that Mica is in the chair? If so, the next ranking member could help shape the reauthorization.

Could Eleanor Holmes Norton be the next top Democrat on the Transportation Committee? Image: ##http://www.expressnightout.com/content/2009/11/dc-2009-best-representative-senator-eleanor-holmes-norton.php##Express##

Could Eleanor Holmes Norton be the next top Democrat on the Transportation Committee? Image: Express

Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia would be next in line to become ranking member in January, but he already chairs the Natural Resources Committee and it’s not clear he’d switch (setting off a chain of changes in that committee as well.) Rahall’s transportation priorities – for his own, very rural, district, at least – lean toward highway construction and expansion.

And it’s not clear that he’d have to drop out of one committee to become ranking member of another. House rules only allow a member to chair one full committee at a time. I’ve checked with the House Rules Committee and the Speaker’s office and so far no one knows if the same is true for ranking members. I’ll let you know once I hear.

If Rahall is out, then the games begin.

Next in line for the job behind Mr. Rahall is Rep. Peter DeFazio, a liberal Democrat from Oregon who favors increased spending on public-transit projects.

Another Democrat in the running is Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who is the elected representative from Washington, D.C. Because Ms. Norton doesn’t represent a state, she isn’t a full-fledged members of Congress. She is permitted to vote on legislation in committees, but she does not have vote on the House floor.

If Ms. Norton becomes the top Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, she could draw the ire of tea party Republicans, who are already opposed to government spending — much less spending-bills promoted by a lawmaker who doesn’t have full voting rights in Congress.

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Election Day Finds Two Livability Champions on the Ropes

Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN) will likely lose his chairmanship of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, as control of the House is widely expected to shift to the Republicans after today’s election. But Oberstar could also lose his seat in Congress.

Oberstar, right, and DeFazio share a ride in a pedi-cab. ##http://willametteriverbridge.blogspot.com/2010/09/congressman-jim-oberstar-d-minnesota.html##Willamette River Bridge Project##

Oberstar, right, and DeFazio share a ride in a pedi-cab. Willamette River Bridge Project

As committee chair, Oberstar has been a strong advocate for transit investment and livability reforms. He’s also the architect and chief proponent of the six-year $500 billion transportation bill that’s been stalled in the House since last summer.

Oberstar has easily won 17 consecutive elections, but the 18th is proving to be a little sticky. The LA Times reports:

[R]ecently, American Crossroads, an independent group affiliated with GOP strategist Karl Rove, started running spots on the Duluth stations that blanket the area. A group formed by Democrat-turned-Republican Dick Morris also launched a spot against Oberstar.

Then a third group called 60 Plus, which bills itself as a conservative alternative to AARP, began broadcasting $100,000 worth of ads saying it was time for the 76-year-old incumbent to retire.

Now, Oberstar’s seat is in play.

According to polling by SurveyUSA, he’s currently just one point ahead of challenger Chip Cravaack, within the margin of error. And he’s not the only champion having to fight harder than usual to retain his seat.

It’s being portrayed as a testament to the power of anti-incumbent sentiment this year that Peter DeFazio (D-OR) finds himself in a surprisingly close race against Republican Art Robinson. DeFazio, as chair of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, has strongly advocated for including livability measures in the transportation bill.

He won his last race with 82 percent, and no independent polls were even commissioned this time around — his chances were considered that good. Conservative money has helped Robinson close the funding gap, though. And the only poll that’s been conducted — admittedly, by a Republican polling firm — shows DeFazio just six points ahead. That’s a lot closer than he expected this race to be.