Thursday, February 2, 2012

Preventing future federal funds for high-speed rail

As you know, both the Senate and the House are reviewing their intended Transportation Budget Re-Authorization Bills, even as we speak.  They are miles apart at this time, despite their claims to the contrary. It would be amazing, to say the least, if they got as far as re-conciliation and agreed upon a multi-year bill. While I don't expect that during this election cycle, strange things can happen, especially in Washington.

Our concern with all this is, of course, whether there will be further federal funding for high-speed rail. 

It should be made clear that federal government legislation is usually enormously complex and full of leaks.  By that I mean that even though some legislation does not spell out a potential funding category directly as a line item, there can be recipients nonetheless that are not explicitly named or identified.  

It behooves us to pay close attention to the language of the new Transportation Budget as it grinds through the machinery of both Houses of Congress.  Denham, a Republican, wishes to erect barriers for further high-speed rail funding. The Democrats, seeking to support public transit, will try to find ways to get funds to high-speed rail projects. Vigilance is required.

GOP lawmaker files amendment to block highway bill money from going to Calif. rail
By Keith Laing - 02/02/12 10:27 AM ET

A California Republican lawmaker is planning to introduce an amendment to the $260 billion surface transportation bill being considered by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Thursday to block any of the money from going to a controversial high-speed railway in his state. 

About 20 percent of the money in the federal transportation bill (H.R. 7) traditionally goes to public transit projects, but Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) said Thursday none of it should go to the proposed California high-speed railway, which has become a lightning rod for conservatives. 

“As the Congressman has said himself, there are many claims and many hopes for California High Speed Rail right now, but the facts in no way support it,” Denham’s office said Thursday in an email. “The project should be cancelled.” 

Republicans in the House have targeted the proposed railway supporters say would link San Francisco, Los Angeles and other major cities since reports emerged last fall that the cost of building the line would increase from $33 to $98 billion. The project has received more than $3 billion from the Obama administration, which is more than any other state that was included in the president’s vision of a nationwide network of railways that would connect 80 percent of Americans. 

The House has already voted to remove funding for high-speed rail from the 2012 budget, but Denham’s office said it was important it not be included in the multi-year transportation bill that traditionally appropriates money raised by the federal gas tax. 

“The congressman wants to create jobs and expand upon our transportation portfolio, but we must be responsible for how we are spending taxpayer dollars,” Denham’s office said. “The money should go towards repairing our roads and highways, these are immediate, shovel-ready infrastructure projects that will create jobs and help build our local economies.”  

Democrats have objected to both the amount of the GOP’s proposal for the new highway bill and the Republican plan to pay it using money from increased oil drilling. The minority party moved unsuccessfully Thursday morning to postpone the markup of the highway bill, and ranking member Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) promised his party would “offer many amendments to address deficiencies in this bill. 

“I hope all members of this committee had a full breakfast this morning, because I wouldn't want them to starve like we've been starving our infrastructure,” Rahall said Thursday morning. 

The transportation committee’s mark up of the transportation bill is expected to last most of the day Thursday. Denham's amendment has not yet come up for vote. 

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