Thursday, September 22, 2011

HSR: A Billion Here, A Billion There. . . . .

This article from the DC Streets blog includes a photo of Senators Dick Durbin and Harry Reid riding 'in the lap of luxury' on a Chinese high-speed train.  I wonder if it was taken before or after the fatal accident of the high-speed rail collision in China.  

And, I also wonder who from the US is going on "fact-finding" junkets to China to ride the high-speed trains, which the Chinese have had to slow down and reduce the number of.

My point here is that these experiences constitute the major portion of the "education" our legislators receive -- that is, having high-speed train rides in other countries -- which bestows on them the 'expertise' necessary to make major funding decisions about this HSR program. Perhaps they also read press release one pagers from rail industry PR contractors.

There are numerous photos in the press of our legislators and people like Ray LaHood on high-speed trains in other countries.  That must be the fun part of their job. 

The Senators obviously liked the ride, so why not spend multi-billions on it for us in the US? (rhetorical question; no need to answer) It's a kind of "keeping up with the Joneses" mentality, I guess.

As you all know by now, the Senate has been running a one year transportation budget extension for FY2012, through the legislative pipeline.  One Senate sub-committee and two full committees reviewed the proposed budget, which had eliminated all HSR funding.  A $100 million amendment add-on was a last-minute addition. 

Senator Feinstein, (whose husband, Richard Blum, stand to profit significantly from HSR funding in California), was one of the four Democratic Senators who engineering this amendment. Durbin of Illinois was another.  Illinois has also been on the receiving end of DOT funding for faster Amtrak trains. 

The big fight between the two Transportation budgets, that of the Republican House and that of the Democratic Senate, has yet to come. As you might expect, the Democrats were far more generous with transportation funding, and there are several other pockets of funding, discussed in the article, that could possibly be money sources, let's call them "loans," for California's HSR project.  That also remains to be seen.

We have made this point numerous times.  If anything will bring this insane program and California project to a halt, it is the termination of federal funding, and that is the House Republicans' intention.  We can expect no such consideration from our Democratic legislators and Governor in Sacramento, since they are so determined not to interfere with the DOT's commitment to provide the $3.5 billion awarded/promised funds. Money talks!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Senate Saves a Sliver For High-Speed Rail
by Tanya Snyder on September 22, 201

President Obama had sought $8 billion for high-speed rail in 2012. The House-passed budget had exactly zero. The Senate bill approved by the Transportation subcommittee Tuesday followed suit. But the full Appropriations Committee yesterday put $100 million back into next year’s budget for the president’s signature transportation initiative.

That’s still starvation wages for the program, but it’s at least a placeholder that keeps it limping along. The move was spearheaded by four Democratic senators – Dick Durbin of Illinois, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Dianne Feinstein of California and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana — who introduced the successful amendment to reallocate some funds earmarked for highway and transit projects to high-speed rail.

“I offered this amendment because we can’t turn our backs on a project that will invest in the future and put Californians back to work,” Feinstein said in a statement.

“Every dollar we spend on rail produces $3 in economic output,” added Senator Durbin, a founding member of the Bi-Cameral High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail Caucus. “Congress has maintained a commitment to high speed and intercity rail for over a decade. This amendment will continue that commitment.”

Highway funding in the Senate bill stays at FY2011 levels, but the chamber added another $358 million for the New Starts program for transit capital investments, previously funded at $8.3 billion. The House budget would reduce New Starts to $5.3 billion.

TIGER got a little bump too, with the Senate raising the allocation from $527 million to $550 million. Of that, $120 million is reserved for rural communities. The third round of TIGER grant applications is currently underway.

The Senate-passed budget keeps $90 million for the tri-agency Partnership for Sustainable Communities (down from $100 million in 2011), a victory for livability advocates and anyone who prefers federal collaboration and efficiency over stovepipes and silos.

The bill also includes $25 million for energy efficiency improvements for transit systems to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. And the Washington metro system, always threatened with federal cuts, comes away with $150 million for capital investments, with a focus on safety.

These numbers are by no means final. They vary widely from the FY2012 budget the House passed two weeks ago. At some point, the two chambers will have to find a compromise between two significantly different funding proposals, but for now, they’re just trying to figure out an extension (or “continuing resolution”) of the current year’s budget in order to keep government programs funded past September 30. Last night’s vote in the House failed dramatically, with both Democrats and Tea Party Republican dissenting.

Both chambers are supposed to be on recess next week, but leadership might require members to stay in Washington, at least through the weekend, to hammer out a deal if they can’t work one out by the end of the this week. Congress doesn’t normally vote on Fridays, either, so many lawmakers are hoping for progress today so they can return to their districts.

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