Monday, December 20, 2010

The Outlook for the Federal Transportation Program in the Next Congress

Ken Orski writes a very detailed and professional accounting of Government activities in Innovation NewsBriefs.

Here are some excerpts from remarks "by Kenneth Orski, Editor-Publisher of Innovation NewsBriefs before the Transportation Leaders session at the National Conference of State Legislatures, Phoenix, AZ, December 9, 2010"

If what Ken Orski predicts will come to pass, that changes the entire California high-speed rail landscape.

Terminating federal funding for HSR in California won't cause a closing down of the office of the CHSRA. That can only be done either by the Governor (fat chance!) or the Legislature, by which I mean Simitian/Lowenthal. Without federal funds to match, what reason is there to continue to spend Prop. 1A bond funds? What has already been spent are "sunk costs." There is certainly no justification for throwing further good money after bad.

It will be time to put this broken-down project out of its and our misery.


The Outlook for the Federal Transportation Program in the Next Congress

Broadly speaking, we can expect the changing balance of power in the next Congress to manifest itself in two ways: a strong push to trim federal programs and an equally determined drive to cut federal discretionary spending. This new policy climate on Capitol Hill can be expected to reshape the federal surface transportation program in significant ways.


Cancel/Reprogram Unspent Stimulus Funds

A third announced objective of the Republicans House leadership will be to cancel or reprogram uncommitted stimulus (ARRA) funds. There have been early indications of the congressional determination to do so. Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) has introduced a bill that would rescind any unobligated ARRA funds and return them to the U.S. Treasury. According to incoming Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY), new spending restraints will be introduced for FY 2012 discretionary programs, such as a rule requiring any legislation creating a new spending program to be offset by eliminating an existing program of equal or greater value. Other programs that are already underway could be effectively terminated by being denied further funds.

Both the high-speed rail and the TIGER grant programs will be vulnerable. Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) has introduced a bill to rescind unobligated funds from the high-speed rail projects, while several California congressmen including Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the Majority Whip in the next House of Representatives, want to rescind the funds awarded to the California high-speed project. Echoing these intentions, Rep. Mica has announced that he will revisit all the high-speed rail projects and refocus the unspent and uncommitted money on places "where it makes sense." The Northeast Corridor is expected to be the main beneficiary of any such reprogramming since Mr. Mike has been quite vocal in criticizing the Administration for not paying enough attention to the Boston-to-Washington corridor. "Ignoring development of true high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor would be a monumental failure," Mica wrote last year ("U.S. Musn't Squander High-Speed Rail Funds," The Hill, October 15, 2009)