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Transportation Nation

Rick Santorum, as Senator, Preached the Gospel of Transit

Monday, January 09, 2012

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

In March of 2005, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and its Pennsylvania counterpart (PPTA) honored Senator Rick Santorum for his dedication to public transportation. APTA president William W. Millar noted Santorum’s “tireless advocacy” and contributions on “both the national and local level.”

This recognition came shortly after Santorum appeared on Meet the Press with Joe Biden and vowed to oppose President Bush in his efforts to cut Amtrak funding. “Without substantial government funds or other intervening action, Amtrak would quickly enter bankruptcy and shut down all of its services, leaving millions of riders and thousands of communities without access to the essential and convenient transportation that Amtrak provides,” Santorum wrote in a Philadelphia Enquirer piece later that March. Regions outside the Northeast, he admitted, needed to “take steps to become more efficient and profitable.” But in the meantime “it is critical to Pennsylvania's workers, businesses, visitors, and most specifically to the more than 3,000 Amtrak employees that we do not decrease funding for Amtrak.”

The APTA release noted that Santorum’s position on the Senate Banking Committee and the Senate Finance Committee had allowed him to play “an important role in securing funding for various transportation projects throughout Pennsylvania.” And indeed it had.

Santorum’s primary challengers are now characterizing the Senator’s fondness for federal largess as a sign that he’s not a real fiscal conservative. In late December, as Santorum was surging in the Iowa polls, Rick Perry began criticizing him as “a prolific earmarker.” One Perry ad called Santorum “a porker’s best friend.” “I love Iowa pork,” Perry said in a speech. “But I hate Washington pork. Senator Santorum loaded up his bills with Pennsylvania pork and even voted for the Alaska bridge to nowhere.”

All true. But a little context, if you’d like: In 2005, earmarking was de rigueur. Congressmen and Senators brought pork back from the Washington hunt and hung it triumphantly at press conferences and shovel ceremonies. In July of 2005, when the final Senate vote was taken on the transportation funding bill that contained the “Bridge to Nowhere” earmark, only four Senators opposed it. And the Republican president signed it.

Does that mean that the earmark-baiting of the other candidates is nothing more than “pious baloney?” Well, Perry and his Texas Department of Transportation certainly had their hand out back then too. (The Governor often cited the disappointing funding stream from Washington as one reason he wanted to see his privatized Trans-Texas Corridor plan enacted.)

But who has credibility in this regard? If 96 Senators jumped off a cliff, who wouldn’t? John McCain, who was one of those four Senators who voten nay on the 2005 transportation reauthorization, who took a brave lead in criticizing the earmark-laden bill, and who is now on the stump for Romney, criticizing Santorum (and Gingrich) for earmarking.

And to the horror of The Club for Growth, Santorum says he has no regrets on earmarking. "I don't regret going out at the time and making sure that the people of Pennsylvania, who I was elected to represent, got resources back into the state after spending money,” he said recently. The Huffington Post also quoted Santorum explaining to a crowd of voters in Iowa: “In the Constitution it says who has the power to appropriate funds. Congress does. So we appropriate funds.”

Former Pennsylvania Governor and Infrastructure cheerleader Ed Rendell chimed in last week to praise Santorum’s effectiveness in funneling money home. "He understood that those type of earmarks translated into jobs and investment," Rendell said.

Indeed his support of infrastructure, particularly transit, seems to run deep. From 1984 to 1986, Santorum served as the director for the state senate transportation committee as an administrative assistant for Pennsylvania state senator J. Doyle Corman. He understood what rail meant to Pennsylvania and its cities. "The 'T' light rail line in Pittsburgh was my daily means of transportation for many years while I worked downtown,” Santorum said in 2005 when he was honored by the APTA. “I understand the importance of maintaining the various forms of public transportation for those who rely on it every day."

Midway through his first term as senator, during the drafting of the TEA-21 authorization bill, Santorum helped create the new Job Access and Reverse Commute program, which was meant to address “the unique transportation challenges faced by welfare recipients and low-income persons seeking to obtain and maintain employment.” When the authorization bill came up for renewal in 2005, Santorum appeared before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs and offered a full-throated endorsement of the program—and federal transit funding in general—from a socially conservative angle.

“Robust [transit] systems are also an important component of economic development,” he said. “Throughout my tenure in Congress, one of my highest priorities has been assisting those who are transitioning from welfare to the workplace.... In my home state of Pennsylvania, the cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in particular have provided access to employment for thousands of individuals through the JARC program. The creation of the program has allowed Pennsylvania to provide welfare recipients and other low-income individuals an opportunity to secure and retain employment and achieve self-sufficiency.”

Interestingly, that May of 2005, at a time when privatization was spreading and the Bush Administration was promoting state-level responsibility for transportation, Santorum offered a strenuous defense for a strong federal participation in transportation funding.

“Every State in the country has a transportation department. Why do we need a Federal transportation department?” He asked. “We need it because we have to make sure the goods that are produced in New Jersey can get to Ohio to Texas, or the goods produced in California can get to Georgia.

"The fact is it is important for us to be connected... We have a situation where we have States that shoulder a large burden when it comes to that interstate commerce, and we have other States that are the great beneficiaries.” The Federal government, he argued, should continueto redistribute national gas tax revenues disproportionately to “pass-through” states such as Pennsylvania. “Given the topography, the climate, and the congestion and traffic we bear, it would be a State that should do well under a Federal formula.”

So there you have it. Rick Santorum is a man quite comfortable with Washington’s role in redistributing tax revenue, at least when it comes to transportation. He’s a man who quite likes trains and buses, a man who sees federal spending on public transportation not as welfare, but rather as a way to help people of lesser means get to work, as economic development.

More candidate analysis:  Mitt Romney: Metro-Friendly Moderate?; Newt Gingrich: Rail Visionary, Lover of Oil; Rick Perry’s Trans-Texas Corridor Problem.

Matt Dellinger is the author of the book Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway. You can follow him on Twitter.

 

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Transportation Nation

When It Comes to Transpo Spending: Those Who Can’t Do... Study

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Boy studying, from the album: Miscellaneous. Photograph by Lewis Wickes Hine, ca. 1924. From the National Child Labor Committee Collection at the Library of Congress

(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation) I thought there had been some Internet hiccup when I saw a news item saying that the Governor of Pennsylvania had ordered the formation of a Transportation Funding Advisory Commission. Surely this was an article from five years ago, I thought, before then-Governor Ed Rendell turned over every possible rock looking for transportation money. From 2007 through 2010, of course, Rendell tried to privatize the Pennsylania Turnpike, tried (twice) to toll Interstate 80, proposed raising the state gas tax, and suggested a transportation tax on oil profits—all unsuccessful.

But no. Pennsylvania's new governor, Tom Corbett, is creating a new commission, which he has ordered to give a final report by August 1. The commission’s recommendations, I’ll bet you a shiny quarter, will be to do many or all of the things Rendell already tried. A brand new report from the longstanding Pennsylvania State Transportation Advisory Committee, not to be confused with the new Transportation Funding Advisory Commission, already hints at all of these same funding sources: tolls, public-private partnerships, increased taxes and fees, and eventually a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) charge.

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Reports suggesting some combination of those solutions were already easy to find. There was, for instance, the January 2008 report of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission. Then, a year later, there were the findings of the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission. Most recently, the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform joined the chorus arguing for an increase in the federal gas tax (that choir consisting largely of think tanks and other parties who won’t actually have to vote on such a measure).

But the announcement of yet another study group in Pennsylvania, where an aggressive Governor spent an entire term beating his head against the walls of his state legislature and the toll-wary USDOT, feels like a particularly telling case of hemming and hawing. And it’s by no means an anomaly.

In Indiana, Governor (and potential Republican presidential candidate) Mitch Daniels seems to be punting on funding the last stretch of Interstate 69, the controversial “NAFTA Highway” that he has pushed as a cornerstone of his legacy. The state legislature passed a bill last week giving the governor and INDOT the power to enter into public-private partnerships for toll roads, but rather than wield that power now and risk a backlash, Daniels is allowing—you guessed it—a study committee to explore the various funding options. That committee will take its time: two years, just long enough for Daniels to clear out of the statehouse.

Matt Dellinger is the author of the book Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Transportation Nation

Help Storyboard a Pro-Infrastructure Super Bowl Commercial

Sunday, February 06, 2011

(Matt Dellinger - Transportation Nation) During this Sunday’s Super Bowl you will see beer ads, insurance ads, fast food ads, and car ads. But you will not see any public service announcements on behalf of funding infrastructure investment. At least not this year.

If House republicans get their way, the level of transportation funding will decrease, not increase, over the coming year. That, despite the wishes of a let’s-build-stuff coalition so broad that it finds the AFL-CIO agreeing with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. So why don’t these groups pool their resources and start a public campaign, some wonder.

Former Governor of Pennsylvania Ed Rendell is fond of describing the billboards that the Laborers' International Union of North America erected around the his state. “Bridge Ahead Structurally Deficient,” they read. “Ask Senators Casey and Specter to help.”

“They wanted to put another sign at the other end of the bridge that said ‘Glad you made it!’, but the lawyers talked them out of it,” Rendell remarked at the Texas Transportation Forum in January. "My goal is: Super Bowl 2012, to have an ad on infrastructure."

So c’mon, Transportation Nation readers. Let’s brainstorm. What would a pro-infrastructure Super Bowl spot look like? Football theme? Sex sells? Blockbuster spokespersons? Hollywood production values? Let’s assume a big budget. Comment to the left. Let's get this going!

Matt Dellinger is the author of the book Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Transportation Nation

Governor Rendell on Transportation's Future, and His Own

Monday, November 22, 2010

Governor Edward Rendell in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in November 2009. (TED VAN PELT/Creative Commons via Flickr)

To transportation watchers, Governor Edward Rendell of Pennsylvania is a familiar face—and an unmistakeable voice. His raspy enthusiasm for the un-sexy world of infrastructure has been consistent and contagious. Two years ago, Rendell co-founded, with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Building America's Future, a bipartisan coalition of elected officials dedicated to "bringing about a new era of U.S. investment in infrastructure that enhances our nation's prosperity and quality of life."

In his eight years as Governor, Rendell showed a remarkably open mind when it came to financing infrastructure. He has repeatedly advocated for the indexing of the gas tax and recently suggested a profit tax on oil companies to pay for transportation. In 2007, he unsuccessfully sought permission from his state legislature to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike to private operators. When the legislature declined, Rendell sought approval from the USDOT to add tolls to his state's stretch of Interstate 80. The federal government denied that plan—twice—because the applicable pilot program restricts the use of toll revenues to the tolled facility itself, and Rendell had a statewide investment program in mind.

Though he is a Democrat, Rendell's eagerness to promote privatization and the tolling of sacrosanct Interstates put him in step with unpopular stances taken by Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters during the Bush Administration. Those ideas remain alive under President Obama, and several former Rendell associates now occupy high places in the USDOT:  his former Deputy Chief of Staff, Roy Kienitz, is now Undersecretary for Policy; and Polly Trottenberg, the former executive director of Building America's Future, is now Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy.

Transportation Nation's Matt Dellinger interviewed Governor Rendell last week, and asked about the new political atmosphere in Washington, how it could affect transportation policy, and where Rendell is headed after he leaves his post in January.

Matt Dellinger: Since you're one of the most outspoken advocates for transportation investment, I wanted to get your thoughts on where we are as far as federal re-authorization.

Governor Ed Rendell : Well, it's difficult to say exactly with the change in Congress. I think the chances of a megabill like Congressman Oberstar had proposed are probably pretty remote, and

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Transportation Nation

Moving Stories: Glenn Beck backers on the bus; Clunkers, but no cash; What is "high-speed" rail?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Is the way supporters got to Glenn Beck rally hypocritical?  ("Politics and World News" blog)

No cash for clunkers: Fewer discounts, incentives for car buyers this fall (AP)

Rendell, not content to boss around PA legislators, says Congress should pass Surface Transportation Bill before midterms (The Hill)

Rail funds feature prominently in Wisconsin gubernatorial debate (Journal-Sentinel)

"Revolt" over speed in high-speed rail plans for Midwest among legislators (Chicago Tribune)

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Transportation Nation

The Highway Trust Fund: Big Wheel, Keep on Turning

Friday, August 13, 2010

Perpetual Motion by Norman Rockwell(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation)  Stephen B. Goddard, in his (very excellent) book Getting There, aptly compared the Highway Trust Fund to a perpetual motion machine. Devised in 1956 to pay for the Interstate Highway System, the HTF, as it’s often abbreviated, pooled gas taxes and other automobile-related revenues and spit them right back out as construction money for more highways, the presence of which encouraged more driving and therefore more revenue, and so on.  As Goddard tells it, the HTF was more of an engineering marvel than the roads it built: “It satisfied those who wanted spending linked to revenues, those opposed to diversion [of gas tax monies to non-highway purposes], and congressmen, who would now have one less vote to justify at election time.”

The magical self-feeding road beast did its thing for fifty years, but now, as transportation writer Yonah Freemark laid out last week, it’s become a much more complicated mechanism.

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Rendell starts statewide tour to get more transportation funding. (Philly Inquirer)

SF MUNI officials hope to restore 61% of service cuts (SF Chronicle)

Video of veiled women boarding plane sparks security review in Canada (CBC News)

I-69 fireball prompts questions in DC today over tanker safety (WTHR Indianapolis)

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

U.S. DOT says study showing its tough new tarmac delays rule leads to more cancellations is "premature" (AP)

Rendell wants higher license and registration fee, three-cent hike in the gas tax to close PA's funding gap. Unhappy state GOP wants bonds. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Green "engineers' dreams" on display by Airbus at Farnborough Air Show (Liverpool Daily Post) Boeing posts video of 787 Dreamliner's trip across Atlantic

Nun ticketing sparks concern about Holland Tunnel traffic enforcement (DNAinfo) while cop gets slapped with assault charges and reckless driving for driving the wrong way, hitting a cyclist, and leaving the scene (Gotham Gazette)

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