LaHood to Brian Lehrer: We Haven't Endorsed the Transit Bill

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(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)

(This post has been updated)  U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood tells WNYC's Brian Lehrer the administration has not endorsed  is not endorsing Senator Christopher Dodd's Emergency Transit Aid Bill. "   In the interview, LaHood did not say whether he or the administration might support the bill or one like it in the future.  "We really need to look at how we pay for that," he said.

In an email exchange, LaHood's Press Secretary, Olivia Adair, went to pains to convey that LaHood's use of the present perfect tense does not imply anything as to to the future.  "He said we have not endorsed it because we're still looking at how to pay for it.  He never says we are not endorsing the transit bill."  When asked if that meant LaHood might endorse a bill in future, Adair would not go beyond his broadcast remarks.

There's room for interpretation of LaHood's statement -- politicians have been known to use the "looking at how to pay for it" explanation to avoid supporting a bill altogether.    "Looking at how to pay for it" can also signal  a yellow light -- Congress has certainly passed emergency aid provisions in the past without first figuring out a funding mechanism.  But it can also mean that, if and when  LaHood and President Obama are satisfied there is a funding mechanism for emergency transit aid, they'll support it.

Here's the full audio of the interview:

[MP3] [/MP3]

Here's a partial transcript of the interview:

Brian Lehrer: We are happy to have with us the U. S Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, a former member of congress from Illinois, Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for coming on WNYC, Good Morning.

RL: Good Morning!

BL: As part of the fiscal crisis for state and local governments, as you know, there seems to be a mass transit bloodletting, underway, in my area the cuts to the MTA and NJ Transit are really bad for mass transit. I’ve heard about Atlanta, where 25 percent of the service could be threatened, there’s a possibility that Silicon Valley could be left without mass transit with CalTrain cut under consideration, imagine no mass transit to Apple and to Google Are you paying close attention to the shrinkage in mass transit taking place nationally right now?

RL: We sure are. We are in communication with our transit folks all over the country on a very regular basis and we know because the economy is lousy and the recession continues that ridership on every transit district around the country is down and has been for quite some time.

At the request of many transit groups, to Congress and to us, Congress was able to provide provisions that allowed transit districts to use some of their operating money so they can keep the buses running and keep the schedule in away that accommodates people that need to go to work early in the morning or come home late at night. And this is certainly true in cities like New York or Chicago or Atlanta or elsewhere in big cities. We’re very attuned to it and we’re trying to do everything we can to try and accommodate the downturn in ridership and the downturn in resources that the transit districts have.

Bl: Unfortunately I think the downturn in resources outpaces the downturn in ridership and that’s the problem but Senator Dodd has an emergency mass transit aid bill is it something you or the President has endorsed?

RL: We haven’t endorsed it because we really need to look at how we pay for that or how the Congress is going to pay for it. But we’re in discussion with Congress on a regular basis about these kinds of transit problems -- lower ridership and lower resources. It’s an issue. We’ve talked to Congress a lot about it, these things have to be paid for too, it’s one thing to say you’re going to appropriate x amount of dollars but we’ll continue to keep a watchful eye on it.