Kate Hinds is an Associate Producer for WNYC News. She also reports for WNYC and Transportation Nation, a public radio reporting project that combines the work of multiple newsrooms to provide coverage of how we build, rebuild and get around the nation.
Mica: "We'll Get to Finish Line on Transportation Bill"
Wednesday, January 26, 2011 - 04:06 PM
"I had a great night tonight with Barbara Boxer, she’s going to chair the effort on the Senate side, and we have a whole host of ideas we’ve already agreed on. We can do it. We’re going to drag Obama kicking and screaming to the finish line."
TN correspondent Todd Zwillich caught up with House Transportation and Infrastructure Committtee Chair John Mica last night after the State of the Union address, and he and a few other reporters got his reaction to the president's speech and upcoming plans for a transportation reauthorization bill. You can listen to the congressman here -- or read the transcript below.
Reporter: How do you balance this in your own party, with the needs you know are out there?
John Mica: Well, again, there are good investments and bad investments; they missed the mark last time with stimulus, they only put 7% of $787 billion. 30 days before the election only 39% was spent. So they lost the election by 1) derailing a six-year transportation bill and by 2) coming up with a plan that didn’t allow the money to even be spent to employ people, so now we have a chance to correct that, and we hope we don’t make the same mistake twice. But we’ll work with the president, some of his math as I said doesn’t work on high-speed rail–-we have a hearing at 10:00 in New York City, at Grand Central Station, to sort out some of the differences this week.
Reporter: how do you plan to pay for this transportation bill without the administration getting behind some innovative financing with more than just the word ‘innovative’? It seems like he fleshed out (crosstalk)
JM: Well, first of, I’m gonna take –
when you got gas last time, you paid, I don’t know what you paid per gallon, but 18.4 cents per gallon went into the federal trust fund. So I’ve got to take that amount of money, stabilize the money coming in, then I’ve got to find ways to do creative financing. Leveraging, bonding that makes sense, existing programs that may work, we want them to work even better than programs – I have some programs with billions of dollars sitting idle. I have money from the stimulus bill in infrastructure that’s still sitting idle. Tens of billions. And I’ve got millions of people out of work. So we’ve got to figure out a way to bridge that gap and work with them to get the money moving that’s even in the pipeline. I talked to Governor McDonnell in Virginia, he went in and looked at idle funds in Virginia and found a billion and a half, just like that. We can find tens of billions and get people working – without increasing taxes, without…and I didn’t get into the creative financing. (crosstalk)
Reporter: about Florida rail (inaudible)
JM: He was very careful because the Florida project in not high speed. It is an inter city passenger rail system with an average speed of about 85 mph.
Reporter: he sounded like he was speaking your language when he said ‘projects will be assigned according to practicalities, not politicians’ needs.’
JM: Well, unfortunately that’s not the practice of their TIGER grants, and I’d be glad to show you how they distributed them and we’ll be doing some very intensive oversight review of how the transportation money was doled out. Billions of dollars in TIGER grants and high speed rail grants. And now the political money, that was based on trying to make political gains, is coming back in as you see, because the projects weren’t viable, didn’t have local support, and were based on politicians’ need, not on good investment.
Reporter: Bottom line: is there room to work with him, or what?
JM: I will always work with him. I’ll work with anybody. I had a great night tonight with Barbara Boxer, she’s going to chair the effort on the Senate side, and we have a whole host of ideas we’ve already agreed on. We can do it. We’re going to drag Obama kicking and screaming to the finish line.
Reporter: Can I quote you?
JM: Well, that was a glib comment. We’ll get him there. Barbara Boxer and I will gently nudge the president. (Crosstalk – cage match with the president and John Mica?)
Reporter: That’s one for the books.
JM: That would get it done.
Reporter: What did you think of the spending freeze idea?
JM: Well, you know, he did have the caveat…that only addresses a small portion of the discretionary spending, a very small portion of the total budget. But he did have the caveat that you gotta look at Medicare, Medicaid. HE offered to open up some things on health care. But you gotta tackle the big challenges, and it’s Medicare, Medicaid, all of spending of entitlement programs.
Reporter: Do you think he’s really ready to do all that?
JM: I’ll see you in the back lobby in about three months. Ask me that question (cuts off.)