Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Unanswered questions about HSR by Ken Orski

It is important to be clear here with Ken Orski's penetrating analysis of the shortcomings of Obama's high-speed rail plans and budget.  I want to avoid castigating this President on ideological grounds, or about any issue other than this one.  That's a task for another blog.  The President and I do share some similar political persuasions, but disagree totally about others.   

I have no qualms about agreeing with Ken Orski's deconstruction of this Administration's reckless and counter-productive plan with total unaccountability for implementation. If this is the President's vision, it has no substance and is doomed to be profoundly harmful to this nation. 

As I've said in previous blog entries about this program, from the perspective of the White House, "Here are a few bucks to start a high-speed train project.  Now solve the financing problem yourselves."  That is both mindless and heartless.  

Just to remind you, the entire build-out of the eleven HSR corridors in the US would cost between one and two trillion dollars. So who, in the White House or in the Department of Transportation, has asked the hard questions about where these funds would come from?  Ken puts it much more succinctly than I.

This project must be terminated at the federal level -- the source -- in order to terminate it in every state that had hopes of free dollars from Washington.

Vol. 22, No. 6
February 16, 2012

A Few Questions Concerning the President's FY 2012 Budget Submission on Transportation 

The President's FY 2012 Budget submission on transportation has raised more questions than has offered answers.  The President said he will make sure that his transportation program will be "fully paid for" and pledged to work with Congress to ensure that funding for surface transportation will not increase the deficit. But  these  vague expressions of intent are hardly appropriate in a Budget message which traditionally was meant to offer Congress and the public concrete explanations on how  the Administration intends to fund its proposed program initiatives. 

Here are a few questions that beg for more specific answers. Since the Republican House leadership has already announced its intent  to limit the future surface transportation budget authority to tax revenues deposited into the Highway Trust Fund,  where will the additional  money come from to fund the proposed FY 2012  surface transportation program of $107 billion  or the six-year surface transportation bill amounting to $556 billion? The tax revenues generated by the gas tax are estimated to total  $36.8 billion in FY 2012 and $230 billion over the next six years according to the latest projections of the Congressional Budget Office. How does the President propose to bridge the $70 billion funding shortfall in FY 2012 and the $326 billion shortfall over the life of the next re-authorization?

The President has proposed a Passenger Rail account to be added to a new unified Transportation Trust Fund.  What will be the source of revenue for the Passenger Rail account ? Will it be a tax on rail tickets? And what will be the source of funds for the proposed $30 billion National Infrastructure Bank. Again, the President's Budget is silent on it.  

Finally, has the Administration thought through the idea and the politics of a unified Transportation Trust Fund? Who will make the allocation decisions as between highways, transit,  Amtrak, high-speed rail,  "livable communities" grants, "Transportation Leadership Awards," and other Administration priorities? What criteria will be used to make those  subjective and often controversial decisions?  Who will adjudicate conflicting and competing priorities between the different modes? Will Congress have any say in these decisions and in the selection of investments by  the Infrastructure Bank?

Has the Administration consulted with the transportation industry stakeholders on this issue? Apparently not. As Stephen E. Sandherr, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America, said, “it is hard to take this proposal seriously when the administration has yet to identify how it will pay for the other programs it wants to add to the Trust Fund." Added Bill Graves, President of the American Trucking Association: "This proposal purports to carve up already scarce federal dollars across even more modes." "Utterly out of touch with reality," was the reaction of yet another senior association executive.

These are just a few comments and questions that have been left unanswered in the President's Budget proposal --- questions to which Congress has a right to demand specific unambiguous answers.   
C. Kenneth Orski (
Innovation NewsBriefs (celebrating our 22nd year of publication) 
Potomac, MD 20854
tel: 301.299.1996 | fax: 301.299.4425

Note: the NewsBriefs can also be accessed at <>