Friday, October 05, 2012
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) Three religious groups -- two Christian and one Jewish -- have decided to fight speech with speech in the clamor over a controversial subway ad. Pro-Muslim ads from those groups have begun showing up in the New York City subway -- in some cases, cheek by jowl with an ad that equates the the word "jihad" with savages.
Harriet Olson, CEO of United Methodist Women, said she and her colleagues objected to the original ad and wanted to counter it with a "visual response." So her group matched the anti-jihad group's $6,000 ad buy for posters in ten Manhattan subway stations. “We think that respectful dialogue is absolutely important and that the work for peace is very difficult," she said in an interview with TN, before referring to the anti-jihad ad: "incendiary speech is not the way to get there.”
Jim Wallis of Sojourners, a Christian social justice group, said he was similarly offended by the original ad. "As a rabbi wrote in The New York Times last week, this ad may be legal but it's wrong and repugnant," he said. The Sojourners ad reads simply, "Love your Muslim Neighbors."
It will begin appearing on Monday, as will a separate pro-Muslim ad by Rabbis for Human Rights. That message reads: “In the choice between love and hate, choose love. Help stop bigotry against our Muslim neighbors.”
Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the executive director for the group, which includes 1,800 rabbis. "We want it to be clear that the Jewish community doesn't support this de-humanization of an entire group of people, but rather the Jewish community values working in partnership with our Muslim neighbors," she said.
After the original ad caused an outcry, including a rowdy confrontation at a New York MTA board meeting last week, the MTA considered banning so-called issue ads from its properties. The authority decided instead to put a disclaimer on some ads that express political, religious or moral views. The disclaimer would read that the ad “doesn’t imply an endorsement” by the MTA. The pro-Muslim ad by United Methodist Women does not include a disclaimer.
Monday, October 01, 2012
By Mark Simpson
It seems like Florida and high-speed rail were a couple that always flirted across a crowded room -- but neither had the nerve to ask for a date.
Finally in 2010 and 2011 it seemed like progress was being made. But then the pair's matchmaker -- governor Charlie Crist -- left office, and new governor Rick Scott started sending mixed signals. What could have been a storybook romance for President Obama, Florida, and fast trains evaporated faster than a Shinkansen speeding between Tokyo and Kyoto.
Time Magazine journalist Mike Grunwald recounts some of that story in his new book “The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era”.
Speaking with Mark Simpson on WMFE’s Intersection program this week, Grunwald recalled Orlando and Tampa’s hope’s creating a blazing fast network of trains between the two anchors of the I-4 corridor: “Florida had the shovel-readiest bullet train," he says. "You had the land, you had the route right down I-4, it was pretty much good to go. You had all these private companies that were willing to pick up the slack and say we’ll cover the cost of any overruns and make sure this isn’t going to cost Florida a dime.”
Grunwald says Rick Scott’s cancellation of high speed rail reflected the action of other Republican governors around the country, including Wisconsin and Ohio, and political ideology played into the stripping away of Obama’s grand plans for high speed rail. “There was a kind of tea party element to this; we don’t like trains, that’s the sort of liberal way to travel and we don’t like government projects.”
The high-speed rail network is now much smaller than the nationwide map originally envisioned in the stimulus package. Rather, routes in the Midwest and Northeast are beefing up to bring “higher speed rail,” which don't approach the bullet train speeds of Europe and Asia but instead are shaving off some commuting time between major cities. (Watch videos of recent Acela tests on TN.)
So now, President Obama can't point to a gleaming set of new trains and say "I built that." According to Grunwald, that has ramifications. “I talked to a guy in the administration who told me he thought this was going to be a great issue for Obama in 2012," he says, "because they would just show pictures of those guys in Florida building this new fancy high-speed network that was going to whip bullet trains past traffic on I-4 and create tens of thousands of jobs, and they’d be able to run those ads in Wisconsin and say hey thanks for your money Wisconsin -- but of course it turned out Florida went [in that same] direction.”
You can listen to the complete conversation on WMFE’s web page.
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Infrastructure issues may have turned partisan these past four years while bridges crumble, waiting for repair, but transit-advocates have hope: This election may bring in big bucks for buses and subways, direct from voters.
More than a dozen transit-related initiatives will appear on local ballots in November, including a mammoth funding plan in Los Angeles. Elsewhere, a measure in Orange County, N.C., would add a half cent to the sales tax to fund transit. A third measure, in Memphis, Tenn., would increase the cost of a gallon of gas by a penny, raising an estimated $3 to $6 million each year for the Memphis Area Transit Authority.
The big kahuna of proposals is in Los Angeles, where four years ago voters approved Measure R, a sales tax increase that is expected to raise $40 billion over 30 years for transit, highway, and bus projects. Measure J, which will appear on the ballot this year, would extend the transportation tax another 30 years.
The city's transit system is still wanting for cash. Even as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has vocally championed new light rail lines and bike lanes, L.A. County’s Metro has slashed bus service to some of the city’s most down-and-out neighborhoods.
Atlanta’s transit agency has been cutting bus service due to budget shortfalls. But unlike in L.A., light rail hasn’t fared much better.
However, Atlanta seems to be an exception to the rule. Transit funding is winning wide approval in other cities around the country this year, as in recent years — and will likely see a few more big wins on ballot budget initiatives in November, including in L.A. If all goes as expected, Angelenos will get the world-class transit system that Mayor Villaraigosa dreams about — and sooner than you might think.
“The overwhelming majority of measures are successful,” says Jason Jordan, director of the Center for Transportation Excellence, a D.C.-based nonprofit that tracks transit-related ballot initiatives. “We were expecting to see approval rates decline back in ’08, with the economic downturn. But rates have actually been improving year over year.”
According to the center’s tally, transit is batting almost 90 percent at the ballot box nationally this year. Voters in Baton Rouge, La., approved a property tax measure in April that will more than double the annual budget for the local bus service. In May, residents of Parkersburg, W.Va., voted to extend a property tax that funds the local transit service. And Michiganders renewed a slew of taxes to fund transit in August.
“It used to be that you might go to the ballot in order to raise matching funds for federal dollars,” Jordan says. “Now, places have to make themselves competitive for federal funds by showing they’ve got skin in the game.”
Putting a long-term transit tax in place would allow L.A.’s Metro to borrow the money now and pay it off over the coming decades (there’s a good explanation here), meaning that Angelenos could be living in traintopia in the not too distant future. Under California law, the measure will require a supermajority of at least two-thirds support to pass, but that didn’t stop Measure R from passing in 2008.
So what happened in Atlanta — and could the same forces take down transit initiatives elsewhere? Here it is, mapped:
Pretty clear, right? More than two-thirds of voters in the urban core supported the measure. But the further you went from the city center, the more the opposition won over. By the time you got to the suburbs, people it was a landslide of opposition.
Jordan says that in many ways, Atlanta’s initiative was destined to fail, both because of historic forces at work in the region, (listen to TN's documentary about Race and Mass Transit for the story of Atlanta's transit history) and because the state legislature imposed restrictions on the measure that made it unwieldy. The vote also coincided with the state primaries, in which the most contested races were among Republicans in the exurbs — not people who are inclined to tax themselves for better trains and buses.
For evidence that transit votes don’t always devolve into a simple city-vs.-suburb showdown, Jordan points to St. Louis, where a ballot initiative failed in 2008, but passed on a second attempt, two years later. Here are the maps:
Looks neat, but to me, the message remains the same: Folks in the ‘burbs don’t care much for transit initiatives. The difference in the second St. Louis election was that fewer of them turned out to vote — and a strong grassroots campaign succeeded in getting pro-transit folks to support the measure. In campaign parlance, the initiative’s backers got their supporters out “without mobilizing their opponents.”
In L.A., where transit is winning my supermajorities, the story seems to be different. Mayor Villaraigosa has a long way to go in his effort to build a truly functional and just public transportation system for his city, but he has succeeded in creating a plan that a broad swath of society can get behind, one likely to pass the test of election day.
Greg Hanscom is a senior editor at Grist. He tweets about cities, bikes, transportation, policy, and sustainability at @ghanscom.
Sunday, September 23, 2012
Not too long ago, an ad for Audi cars sought to relate to the average driver with grimly shot footage of rutted roads, rotting bridges, and frayed guardrails. “Across the nation, over 100,000 miles of roads and bridges are in disrepair,” a female announcer intones.
That this rhetoric could turn up in an ad is a metaphor of the current acceptance of America’s rather sorry infrastructure. In its latest report card, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave American infrastructure a "D.”
In 2008, Republicans and Democrats pretty much agreed that investing in infrastructure is a national priority. Here's an excerpt from the 2008 GOP platform:
We support a level of investment in the nation's transportation system that will promote a healthy economy, sustain jobs, and keep America globally competitive. We need to improve the system's performance and capacity to deal with congestion, move a massive amount of freight, reduce traffic fatalities, and ensure mobility across both rural and urban areas.
We urgently need to preserve the highway, transit, and air facilities built over the last century so they can serve generations to come. At the same time, we are committed to minimizing transportation's impact on climate change, our local environments, and the nation's energy use. Careful reforms of environmental reviews and the permitting process should speed projects to completion.
It's hard to remember that that was just four years ago -- when Senator Barack Obama was running against Senator John McCain.
In 2012, supporting infrastructure couldn't be more partisan.
In one of the most-quoted pieces of video />made this campaign, President Barack Obama argues that success relies on collective action, including big infrastructure projects. Obama: "If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help... Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."
But to Republicans, that sounded like an argument against individual ingenuity. "We are the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the ones who wanted a better life, the driven ones," former Governor Mitt Romney said in his acceptance speech, describing all the reasons our parents and grandparents came to this county, including "freedom to build a life. And yes, freedom to build a business with their own hands."
It was huge applause line. The theme even became a country song Lane Turner performed at the convention, with the refrain, "I built it, with no help from Uncle Sam."
That Uncle Sam has a big role in building infrastructure has been a pretty consistent theme for President Obama. His $800 stimulus bill had big sums for highways, transit, and high speed rail. He's proposed big transportation budgets every year.
But republicans see it differently. Arguing the country can't afford more debt, Republican Governors sent stimulus money back to the federal government. In Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida, they stopped high speed rail projects in their tracks. But they weren't the first republicans to send big bucks back to D.C.
But before Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Rick Scott of Florida had even won office, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie started a modern trend: sending billions back to the federal government for a local transit project rather than risk incurring extra debt for New Jersey taxpayers. In October, 2010, Christie pulled the plug on an already-started transit tunnel under the Hudson River -- the so-called ARC tunnel. " In the end the taxpayers of New Jersey would be on the hook for every nickel of the cost overruns," Christie said, explaining the decision.
"When you become governor, and you start to become presented with the information I was presented with you're presented with now a choice of a project that I do think is a worthwhile project but that we simply can't afford," Christie added.
Christie's Democratic counterpart in New York, Andrew Cuomo, took a different approach. Without the financing in hand, Cuomo greenlighted his own massive infrastructure project -- a new $5 billion Tappan Zee bridge.
"As a society, as a government, as a state, we have to be able to get to yes," Cuomo told reporters after he'd applied for the funds. "We have to be able to build a bridge that needs to be replaced. If we want this state to be what we want this state to be you have to be able to tackle a project like this."
Thursday, September 20, 2012
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meets this morning to hold Amtrak to the fire over taxpayer subsidies to the national rail network. Amtrak, founded in 1971, has never made a profit. Over its four decades of operating a for-profit passenger service on 44 rail routes, Amtrak has received about $40 billion in subsidies for capital and operating expenses.
Transportation Committee Chair, John Mica (R-Fla.) says a big chunk of those subsidies are wasted. In recent months, Mica has been shining a brighter spotlight on what he sees as unnecessary spending and mismanagement at Amtrak. Today's hearing will be the third of three discussing Amtrak operations. The head of Amtrak, Joe Boardman, (interviewed by TN here) will be on the stand along with representatives from the bus industry, a rail passenger group and the conservative Cato Institute.
Mica's office and Amtrak have each issued statements that hint at how this hearing will play out. We've pasted them below. Consider it a tale of dueling press releases.
The announcement from Mica's office states the purpose of the hearing bluntly: "to review Amtrak operations and the need for reforms to significantly cut the unnecessarily high costs of U.S. passenger rail service."
Late yesterday afternoon, Amtrak issued a retort that touted record ridership and a consistent decline in subsidies that peaked in 2004. The proud subject-heading on Amtrak's email blast is a direct response to Mica's criticism: "Amtrak Covers 85 Percent of Operating Costs with Ticket Sales and Other Revenues." That still leaves $466 million in annual subsidies. And that means each passenger trip on Amtrak costs the government $46, more than ten times what other modes receive according to figures cited in Mica's statement, which quoted from a recent study funded by the bus industry.
Mica also offered a pair of line items he'd like to see slashed. One of the lines costs Amtrak $200 million on overtime pay annually, he says. Then there's the hamburgers. Mica devoted a whole press conference last month to lambasting Amtrak's $16 money-losing burgers and the $83 million the company loses from on-board food and beverage service. Mica says that's a glaring example of mismanagement, particularly considering Amtrak's failure to meet a Congressional mandate to break-even on food.
Congressional mandates, Amtrak has said in the past, are exactly the reason the company runs in the red, at least on certain routes. Amtrak was founded to operate a rail network as a for-profit company but also a national public good. Commercial passenger rail had all but failed by 1971. Freight companies were required to operate passenger service. Amtrak was the replacement for that unpopular system. (See these historical press releases from Amtrak's early days for a sense of the thinking in the early 1970s).
Many routes travel through sparsely populated towns with stops chosen as much by political negotiations -- or even mandate -- as passenger demand. Amtrak's long distance routes lose the most money. The worst performer of all is the Sunset Limited line from Los Angeles to New Orleans. As we reported last month, local officials are now agitating to restore that service along the Gulf Coast despite the fact that some stations had passenger numbers in the single digits.
If you want more data from the Transportation Committee, the briefing memo from Mica is here.
Amtrak funding has come to be a political football as a symbol of big government. Today's hearing is sure to be gripping political theater ... for us rail geeks, anyway.
Watch it here starting at 9:30 a.m.
Full Press Releases, first Mica, then Amtrak:
Billions in Taxpayer Subsidies for Amtrak to be Focus of Hearing
Washington, DC – The $40 billion cost to taxpayers in subsidizing Amtrak over the years will be the subject of a Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on Thursday.
The Full Committee hearing, chaired by U.S. Rep. John L. Mica (R-FL), will investigate the monetary losses associated with Amtrak’s operations, explore and compare Amtrak’s level of federal subsidy with the subsidies provided to other modes of passenger transportation, and examine management deficiencies identified by the Amtrak Office of Inspector General.
Funding for Amtrak’s capital and operating expenses comes from operational revenues and appropriated funds. Amtrak’s operations have never resulted in a net profit with most of its routes losing money. The system as a whole only accounts for 0.1 percent of America’s passenger travel, but its per-ticket subsidy level is dramatically higher than other modes of transportation. Over the past 41 years, Amtrak has received nearly $40 billion dollars in taxpayer subsidies. According to a recent study comparing FY 2008 levels of federal subsidy by mode, aviation received $4.28 per passenger trip, mass transit received $0.95 per passenger, intercity commercial bus received $0.10 per passenger, and Amtrak received $46.33 per passenger.
Various factors result in Amtrak’s more than $460 million in annual operating losses, including $83 million per year in food and beverage operating losses (despite a long-standing Congressional break-even requirement), and more than $200 million annually in overtime pay (despite a Congressional cap on the amount of allowable overtime).
This will be the third in a series of Committee oversight hearings to review Amtrak operations and the need for reforms to significantly cut the unnecessarily high costs of U.S. passenger rail service. Click here for more information about Thursday’s hearing.
And from Amtrak:
AMTRAK COVERS 85% OF OPERATING COSTS WITH TICKET SALES AND OTHER REVENUES
Federal operating grant reduced nearly 50% since FY 2004
WASHINGTON - Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman will appear before a Congressional committee tomorrow and testify that with record ridership of 30.2 million passengers, Amtrak now covers 85 percent of its operating budget with ticket sales and other revenues, reducing the federal operating need to just 15 percent.
In addition, he will inform the committee that the FY 2012 federal operating grant of $466 million is significantly down from a peak of $755 million in FY 2004, or a reduction of nearly 50 percent in inflation adjusted dollars.
"Amtrak uses federal operating support to achieve the mission given to us by Congress to deliver the mobility, connectivity and economic benefits of a national passenger rail network, particularly long-distance train routes," Boardman stated.
Through dispatching services, operating contracts and access to Amtrak-owned and maintained infrastructure, Amtrak also supports the safe movement of more than 230 million commuter rail passengers and more than 300,000 carloads of freight rail service each year.
He also will reiterate that for FY 2013, Amtrak is requesting $450 million in federal operating support, an amount lower than what Congress appropriated for the current year. This is possible as a result of improved management and financial performance.
"The federal government has long been in the business of subsidizing all modes of transportation, yet no one can agree on what numbers to use to quantify the benefits of these investments," Boardman said. "Record ridership and revenue, best farebox recovery in the U.S. passenger rail industry, debt cut in half, increased efficiency, better cost controls, improved on-time performance and being the nation's only high-speed rail operator are strong indicators that Amtrak is putting our portion of the federal investment to good and effective use."
Also, Boardman will explain that according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the numbers of Americans in smaller cities and rural communities who no longer have access to intercity bus or air service, and are served only by Amtrak, tripled in just five years. Ridership on Amtrak long-distance trains is up 18.4 percent from FY 2007 to FY 2011.
Finally, Boardman will remind the committee that throughout Amtrak's 41-year existence, passenger rail has been only a small portion of the annual federal transportation budget. In contrast, in just the past four years, the Congress appropriated $53.3 billion from general revenues to bail out the Highway Trust Fund as federal gas tax receipts prove insufficient - that's almost 30 percent more than the $39.3 billion in total federal expenditure Amtrak has received since it was created in 1971.
Amtrak is America's Railroad(r), the nation's intercity passenger rail service and its high-speed rail operator. A record 30.2 million passengers traveled on Amtrak in FY 2011 on more than 300 daily trains - at speeds up to 150 mph (241 kph) - that connect 46 states, the District of Columbia and three Canadian Provinces. Amtrak operates intercity trains in partnership with 15 states and contracts with 13 commuter rail agencies to provide a variety of services. Enjoy the journey(r) at Amtrak.com or call 800-USA-RAIL for schedules, fares and more information. Join us on facebook.com/Amtrak and follow us at twitter.com/Amtrak.
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Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan addresses a crowd in Wellsville, Ohio during the 1896 campaign. Bryan was the first candidate to successfully embrace "whistle-stop" campaigning, harnessing the power of a young rail network to reach masses of voters. (Photo via archive.org link: http://bit.ly/UfVMRY)
(Tom Lisi -- Transportation Nation) Every presidential candidate does it: hop from town to town trying to shake as many hands, kiss as many babies, and spread that in-person charm to as many swing state voters as possible.
This touring style of campaigning didn’t take place until the U.S. had developed a comprehensive railroad system in the latter 19th century. Before then, candidates courted the mostly white male, property-owning electorate through newspapers. In the earliest presidential elections, it was considered unseemly for politicians to tout themselves in public. No longer.
In the age of super PACs and mega donors, candidates routinely charter flights across the country to get to and from big fundraisers -- but the bus is the standard bearer. Romney campaign buses have worn slogans such as "Conservative, Businessman, Leader" and "Every Town Counts." The Romney campaign bus, above, with its candidate in Tarlton, OH, at times does not even have the former governor on it, and will instead transport local politicians to rallies, or go on missions to taunt Obama supporters.
President Obama, pictured here leaving Ireland in 2011, has to use Air Force One to travel by air, whether it’s official state business or part of his campaign trail. The president is supposed to reimburse taxpayers when the plane is being used for travel to fundraising events or stump speeches. One watchdog organization estimates that it costs over $180,000 an hour to operate Air Force One.
The grassroots-style campaign for president became tradition by the time of Reconstruction, but, arguably, the first candidate to turn it into a national phenomenon was the populist Democratic nominee of 1896, William Jennings Bryan. Bryan conducted a six-week "whistle-stop" tour leading up to the election, usually giving 20 to 30 speeches a day.
Before Air Force One, there was U.S. Car No. 1. The Ferdinand Magellan was specially armored to carry President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during World War II. Harry Truman used the Magellan for his famous whistle-stop campaign during the 1948 election. One of the most famous moments of campaign history: Truman stood on the Magellan's observation platform, newspaper triumphantly hoisted high, holding the famously incorrect headline, “Dewey defeats Truman.”
President Eisenhower was considered all but a lock for re-election in 1956, but at the Republican convention that year, a delegate wrote in “Joe Smith" for Vice President to protest the unanimity of the GOP nominations. Here, Democratic opponent Adlai Stevenson meets a Chicago supporter named Joe Smith before embarking on a tour of speeches with his campaign plane, the Joe Smith Express.
With more campaign cash to go around, focus on the presidential primaries has grown over time. Coach buses allow candidates to travel to many destinations in one state, and have room for the media to come along for the ride. John McCain’s “Straight Talk Express” had a welcoming reputation among the press corps during his 2000 primary run.
The Eisenhower administration retired the The Ferdinand Magellan due to lack of use in 1958. But it made a comeback in 1984 when President Reagan used it for one-day trip in Ohio. Campaigns have since brought back the nostalgic whistle-stop style, including President Obama in 2008 when the Illinois Senator campaigned on a restored Pullman car. McCain, who opposed Amtrak funding, carried on whistle-stopless.
FDR loved traveling by rail. He even had his own entryway to Grand Central Terminal in NYC, where a car specially designed for him* still sits, entombed and dusty, below the active station as we reported in our story on the lost subways of NYC. See pic here.
*An earlier version of this sentence incorrectly referred to this car as the Ferdinand Magellan.
Friday, August 31, 2012
(WNYC's Money Talking) As Republicans gathered for their national convention in Tampa this week, President Barack Obama stole some of their thunder by announcing that automakers will have to nearly double the fuel efficiency of cars and trucks by 2025.
The new standards mean vehicles will have to get 54.5 miles per gallon, a steep increase from the 29 miles per gallon now required and even the goal of 35 miles per gallon for 2019.
"The car or light truck you'll be driving in 2025 will not be your grandfather's Oldsmobile," wrote U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood on his blog "Fast Lane."
The Obama administration said the regulations will reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, cut down on pollution, and save drivers thousands at the pump. The White House called them "monumental" and "historic."
But the Romney campaign was quick to label the move “extreme,” saying it limits consumer choice and relies on unproven technologies.
This week on WNYC's Money Talking, two veteran Detroit watchers examine what the fuel efficiency announcement means for the auto industry and whether we'll really see vehicles getting 55 miles per gallon by 2025.
Paul Ingrassia is deputy editor-in-chief of Reuters News and author of the book Engines of Change, which tells the story of how 15 car models shaped American business and culture.
Micheline Maynard has written about the auto industry for a number of publications and wrote the book The End of Detroit: How the Big Three Lost Their Grip on the American Car Market.
They weigh in on how President Obama is making his mark on how we drive, what we pay at the pump, and how much oil we need.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
At least until Rick Santorum’s soliloquy on hands, it was the strangest moment of the Republican National Convention Tuesday night: a small businessman from New Mexico stood at the podium and said—in remarks that were obviously vetted if not written by RNC organizers—that the Obama Administration had let him down... by not spending more money on his road signs.
The theme of the night—written on the walls and backdrops and hand-lettered signs, and laced through nearly every speech—was “We Built It,” an insistent jab at an Obama quote, “You didn’t build that,” which opponents heard as an insult to American ingenuity and bootstrappiness. The President doesn’t think people build their own businesses, the Republicans say, because he thinks the Government builds everything.
His comments, for those who haven't read them a dozen times, were: "Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business. you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen."
The President, and Democrats like Mass. Senate Candidate Elizabeth Warren, make the point with more nuance: businesses big and small are built by people— call them business-builders if you like—who themselves rely on things we can only build together as a society, like roads, schools and police departments.
But one doesn’t need to hunt for nuance to hear the RNC speaker, Phil Archuletta, saying that the government quite literally keeps his business alive, or that he’s quite upset that there wasn’t more federal largesse flowing his way. “When President Obama came on board and pushed the stimulus,” he told the convention Tuesday, "I believed my business was going to explode with work. Unfortunately, it never happened." (His complete remarks are below.)
Today, liberal bloggers have fleshed out the details. The Huffington Post pointed out that “Archuletta saw over $340,000 in federal contracts under Obama in 2010, which makes up nearly half of the $800,000 he’s received in federal dollars over the past 10 years,” and Mother Jones reported that “Through the Department of Commerce's Minority Business Development Agency, Archuleta secured an $850,000 Small Business Administration loan guarantee to build an 11,700-square-foot building for his company.”
No word yet on whether Archuletta will be invited to speak at the Democratic Convention, where perhaps he would have been a better fit.
Here are Mr. Archuletta’s full prepared remarks:
Phil Archuletta: Thank you, Governor. And thank you, Tampa! My story is the story of many Americans, just like Governor Sandoval's. From humble beginnings, I built a successful business. But today my business is at risk because of the Obama administration. For the last 40 years, my company has built the road signs on the Forest Service road system. In fact, in 1984, I was fortunate to receive the national award from President Reagan for being the most successful minority business in the United States. In 2004, President Bush made it possible for our company to manufacture signs for all federal agencies. When President Obama came on board and pushed the stimulus, I believed my business was going to explode with work. Unfortunately, it never happened. The Democratic Congress and the Obama administration created a new procurement process that harmed existing small business contracts, which devastated my business. I pleaded for help from my Congressman and Senators — all Democrats — and meetings were arranged with the Forest Service. They all listened carefully, they made promises, but nothing happened. Today, we are barely hanging on with the orders from the state of New Mexico — thanks to Governor Susana Martinez — and the few orders still coming through the Forest Service from our very loyal customers. I have heard the same story from other small businesses from all over the country.President Obama talks like he supports small businesses, but his actions are destroying us. His administration is putting us out of business. It is our turn to put them out of office! Thank you.
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.
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Here's a short conversation between our Washington Correspondent Todd Zwillich and House Transportation Committee Chair, Congressman John Mica (R-Fla).
Mica talks cautiously about Republican chances in November and addresses some tough questions on the "soul" of the GOP as Tea Party candidates try to shift the party rightward, and away from longtime incumbents like himself.
"You can get all the republicans you want and you still can't win. You have to have independents and you also have to have soft democrats as we call them," Mica says.
Mica just emerged from a scathing and expensive primary battle with a Tea Party challenger. "We said my race was about the heart and soul of the Republican party," Mica says. "The good news is the heart and soul is still very sound."
He called himself "living proof" that Republican voters want "adult supervision" in Washington, and predicted compromise and leadership if his party wins big in November.
Keep checking back for more from the RNC and soon the DNC from key political players in the world of transportation and infrastructure.
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
The rating agency Moody's issued a "credit negative" for the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Monday. That's because of a court ruling last week that overturned New York's Payroll Mobility Tax, a key source of funding for the MTA.
"It doesn't mean there is a ratings change," cautioned David Jacobson of Moody's. "What we are saying is that... the court case, could -- key word 'could' -- have a negative impact, but [right now] it is not enough to warrant a change in the rating or the outlook."
At issue is the right of NY State to tax 34 cents per one hundred dollars of payroll for all employers, including freelancers in the 12 counties around New York City that are served by subways, buses and commuter trains. The Nassau County court ruled that the tax violated the state constitution because some counties where the tax is collected did not vote to support it. That is not necessary if the tax "supports a substantial state interest."
The 2009 law was enacted to bail out the MTA from a $2 billion a year short fall. The MTA said payroll taxes and other fees affected by the ruling contribute $1.8 billion or about 15 percent of the agency's budget.
A ratings downgrade for the MTA could make debt financing more expensive for the agency, which is currently undertaking a $23 billion capital plan.
The MTA is rated A2, an upper/medium grade, by Moody's. Jacobson said that puts the MTA in "pretty solidly in the middle of investment grade scale." The Moody's outlook remains "stable."
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
The White House issued the requirements for automakers' fleets at a heated political moment: Republicans are gathering for their national convention along the oil-rig-speckled Gulf Coast, (full coverage here) and just days ago Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney issued his energy plan that NPR said, "doubles down on fossil fuels" in stark contrast to President Obama.
More pointedly though, this requirement to nearly double the existing fuel economy of small autos comes as a hurricane bears down on New Orleans. Gas prices spiked $1-a-gallon after Katrina struck seven years ago. So it's no coincidence that President Obama's statements today touted future cost savings at the pump and energy independence from higher average fuel efficiency.
“These fuel standards represent the single most important step we’ve ever taken to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said President Obama in the statement posted below. “This historic agreement builds on the progress we’ve already made to save families money at the pump and cut our oil consumption."
Here's the full press release from the White House, and below that an additional statement from the Department of Transportation.
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 28, 2012
Obama Administration Finalizes Historic 54.5 mpg Fuel Efficiency Standards
Consumer Savings Comparable to Lowering Price of Gasoline by $1 Per Gallon by 2025
WASHINGTON, DC – The Obama Administration today finalized groundbreaking standards that will increase fuel economy to the equivalent of 54.5 mpg for cars and light-duty trucks by Model Year 2025. When combined with previous standards set by this Administration, this move will nearly double the fuel efficiency of those vehicles compared to new vehicles currently on our roads. In total, the Administration’s national program to improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions will save consumers more than $1.7 trillion at the gas pump and reduce U.S. oil consumption by 12 billion barrels.
“These fuel standards represent the single most important step we’ve ever taken to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said President Obama. “This historic agreement builds on the progress we’ve already made to save families money at the pump and cut our oil consumption. By the middle of the next decade our cars will get nearly 55 miles per gallon, almost double what they get today. It’ll strengthen our nation's energy security, it's good for middle class families and it will help create an economy built to last.”
The historic standards issued today by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) build on the success of the Administration’s standards for cars and light trucks for Model Years 2011-2016. Those standards, which raised average fuel efficiency by 2016 to the equivalent of 35.5 mpg, are already saving families money at the pump.
Achieving the new fuel efficiency standards will encourage innovation and investment in advanced technologies that increase our economic competitiveness and support high-quality domestic jobs in the auto industry. The final standards were developed by DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and EPA following extensive engagement with automakers, the United Auto Workers, consumer groups, environmental and energy experts, states, and the public. Last year, 13 major automakers, which together account for more than 90 percent of all vehicles sold in the United States, announced their support for the new standards. By aligning Federal and state requirements and providing manufacturers with long-term regulatory certainty and compliance flexibility, the standards encourage investments in clean, innovative technologies that will benefit families, promote U.S. leadership in the automotive sector, and curb pollution.
“Simply put, this groundbreaking program will result in vehicles that use less gas, travel farther, and provide more efficiency for consumers than ever before—all while protecting the air we breathe and giving automakers the regulatory certainty to build the cars of the future here in America,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Today, automakers are seeing their more fuel-efficient vehicles climb in sales, while families already saving money under the Administration’s first fuel economy efforts will save even more in the future, making this announcement a victory for everyone.”
“The fuel efficiency standards the administration finalized today are another example of how we protect the environment and strengthen the economy at the same time,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “Innovation and economic growth are already reinvigorating the auto industry and the thousands of businesses that supply automakers as they create and produce the efficient vehicles of tomorrow. Clean, efficient vehicles are also cutting pollution and saving drivers money at the pump."
The Administration’s combined efforts represent the first meaningful update to fuel efficiency standards in decades. Together, they will save American families more than $1.7 trillion dollars in fuel costs, resulting in an average fuel savings of more than $8,000 by 2025 over the lifetime of the vehicle. For families purchasing a model Year 2025 vehicle, the net savings will be comparable to lowering the price of gasoline by approximately $1 per gallon. Additionally, these programs will dramatically reduce our reliance on foreign oil, saving a total of 12 billion barrels of oil and reducing oil consumption by more than 2 million barrels a day by 2025 – as much as half of the oil we import from OPEC each day.
The standards also represent historic progress to reduce carbon pollution and address climate change. Combined, the Administration’s standards will cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks in half by 2025, reducing emissions by 6 billion metric tons over the life of the program – more than the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the United States in 2010.
President Obama announced the proposed standard in July 2011, joined by Ford, GM, Chrysler, BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar/Land Rover, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota, and Volvo, as well as the United Auto Workers. The State of California and other key stakeholders also supported the announcement and were integral in developing this national program.
In achieving these new standards, EPA and NHTSA expect automakers’ to use a range of efficient and advanced technologies to transform the vehicle fleet. The standards issued today provide for a mid-term evaluation to allow the agencies to review their effectiveness and make any needed adjustments.
Major auto manufacturers are already developing advanced technologies that can significantly reduce fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions beyond the existing model year 2012-2016 standards. In addition, a wide range of technologies are currently available for automakers to meet the new standards, including advanced gasoline engines and transmissions, vehicle weight reduction, lower tire rolling resistance, improvements in aerodynamics, diesel engines, more efficient accessories, and improvements in air conditioning systems. The program also includes targeted incentives to encourage early adoption and introduction into the marketplace of advanced technologies to dramatically improve vehicle performance, including:
- Incentives for electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and fuel cells vehicles;
- Incentives for hybrid technologies for large pickups and for other technologies that achieve high fuel economy levels on large pickups;
- Incentives for natural gas vehicles;
- Credits for technologies with potential to achieve real-world greenhouse gas reductions and fuel economy improvements that are not captured by the standards test procedures.
And from the DOT:
This is a monumental day for the American people, the U.S. auto industry and the Obama Administration’s efforts to make our cars more efficient. Today, DOT and the Environmental Protection Agency are finalizing national standards for fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions for passenger cars and light trucks built in the years 2017 through 2025.
Thanks to their work, the car or light truck you'll be driving in 2025 will not be your grandfather's Oldsmobile. The Administration’s combined fuel economy efforts represent the first meaningful update to fuel efficiency standards in decades. By 2025, the average car will achieve a fuel economy performance equivalent to 54.5 miles per gallon, nearly double that of cars on the road today.
You can read more about these historic fuel efficiency standards on my Fast Lane blog.
Friday, August 24, 2012
In 2005, there weren't many passenger trains rolling from Florida to New Orleans -- just three a week in each direction.
Now there are none.
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina washed away swathes of rail along the Gulf Coast owned by CSX. Amtrak used those tracks for the last stretch of the Sunset Limited service mostly for passengers going to, or coming from, as far off as Los Angeles. After the storm, Amtrak suspended -- though it did not officially cancel -- the Gulf Coast portion of the route. Seven years later, from New Orleans to the Florida panhandle Mayors are plotting how to bring back the trains, and add new ones.
More than 40 mayors gathered last week in Mobile, Alabama to hear from Amtrak what they need to do to get trains rolling. If they get their way, the new Sunset Limited Gulf Coast service will be more frequent than before in hopes of boosting tourism and commerce.
According to a review of a 2009 report by Transportation Nation, restoring train service would not be cheap, and the old Sunset route did not turn a profit. Bringing it back requires federal or state support to build it, and then almost certainly, a subsidy to run it. So, the coalition of mayors and local leaders are strategizing how to lobby their representatives in Congress to get the federal funding process going.
The Panama City News Herald reports: "Officials believe reviving the train service would be a boost to tourism and would help the economies of communities across the Gulf Coast still recovering from Katrina." According to the paper, "Mobile, Alabama Mayor Sam Jones wants an alternative to cars and planes, both of which he calls "too costly."
A 2008 act of Congress, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIAA), required Amtrak to come up with a plan for restoring service. The national rail company offered a 52 page report with three options: restoring the old, sleepy tri-weekly nighttime service, extend the famous City of New Orleans route from Chicago to New Orleans so it turns east to Orlando, Fla. A third option is to launch a new daily service.
Amtrak tells Transportation Nation the plan is there and done. "It is now the decision of federal and state policymakers to determine if passenger rail service should be restored, identify the preferred option and provide the additional funding for capital and ongoing operating costs."
Some of the stations along the route were so infrequently used that it will be hard to argue for restoring them in tight fiscal times. A local website, NorthEscambria.com reports that fewer than three people per week boarded Sunset Limited trains at the Atmore, Alabama station.
Still, Mayors want the service back, and the primary goal of their big meeting on August 16th, was to gather facts they can use to convince Congress to pony up funding. The Pensacola News Journal reported support from the mayors of New Orleans, Pensacola, Fla. and Mobile, Alabama and others want to take economic arguments to their Congressional representatives. Daily daytime service would make it possible for someone to live in Biloxi, Miss, or nearby and work in New Orleans, or for New Orleanians to take short vacations along the Gulf Coast. That's the kind of story a Congressman would need to hear to devote taxpayer money to an unprofitable line.
Another meeting of mayors and local supporters will take place in the next three months months to focus in on Congressional proposals to pitch to federal lawmakers. Mayor Jones of Mobile, told the Alabama Local "we've probably got another six months worth of preparation before we step out with our plan and proposal."
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
In response to a lawsuit filed by seven suburban county governments, a New York State judge ruled Wednesday that a payroll tax suburbanites pay for the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority is unconstitutional. Government leaders from Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties are among those who sued to overturn the tax of 34 cents per hundred dollars of payroll for all employers, including freelancers.
The 2009 law was meant to bail out the MTA from a $2 billion a year short fall. The MTA said in a statement: “We will vigorously appeal today’s ruling. We believe this opinion will be overturned, since four prior challenges to the constitutionality of the law making the same argument have been dismissed.”
Government leaders from Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties were among those who sued to overturn the "mobility tax."
The tax brings the transit authority more than a billion dollars a year. The tax applies to all 12 New York State counties served by the MTA.
In his ruling, State Supreme Court Justice R. Bruce Cozzins Jr. agreed with the plaintiffs' argument that the tax does not serve substantial state interest, and improperly supercedes the county governments.
Paul Steely White, the President of Transportation Alternatives, a transit advocacy group, said in a statement: "This decision threatens the foundation of the state’s economy. Public transportation is critical to the New York City metropolitan area—an area which provides 45 percent of the state’s tax revenue, paying for countless public services from Niagara Falls to Montauk. We hope Governor Cuomo resolves this case, and that the appeals court will consider the substantial state interest when reviewing this ruling.”
Monday, August 20, 2012
"You were dead wrong. When Romney left the governorship, the state was a wreck-- rusting bridges, potholed roads, a great transit system that had serious financial problems he refused to fix, and a pathetic inability to get anything done. Projects that should have taken months took years, and his " fix it first" program was a joke."
He also offered to talk with me on the phone to offer more details. Full transcript of that below. This communication follows Dukakis' latest bout of criticism for Romney which aired on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow show last week.
Dukakis said flatly that after Romney’s four years as Governor “the state’s infrastructure, Rachel, was a wreck. That’s the only way you can describe it. Rusting bridges, potholed roads, couldn’t get anything done.” He later got slightly more specific by saying “bridge projects that should have taken eighteen months were taking four and five and six years. He couldn’t get anything done.”
This conflicted with my review in December of Romney's tenure. I found reason to praise Governor Romney’s record on transportation—specifically his focus, in a twenty-year statewide plan released in 2005, on repair and maintenance. The plan directed at least 75 percent of all new capital spending toward maintaining and improving the Commonwealth’s existing network, “consistent with the Romney administration’s ‘Fix-It-First’ policy," the release said.
We will of course continue to assess the candidates' records ourselves, which will include reaching out for comment from those Dukakis criticizes below. (When Dukakis took a swipe at Romney two years ago, a Romney spokesperson simply shot back that "Mike Dukakis sounds like a very angry and bitter old man.”)
But Dukakis' elaborations are worth noting. He shares two key resume bullet points with Romney and as this edited transcript shows, a passion for potholes ... and bridges and transit, and most of all Mitt Romney's record.
Dellinger: Governor, I would love to have you elaborate on the comments you made about Romney's record on infrastructure. I had the impression — mind you, at a time when you see some Republican Governors actively canceling high-speed rail and tunnel projects — that Romney was decent on transportation, that he at least talked a good game about the importance of maintenance and transit.
Dukakis: I guess he did. But Romney is one of the great disappointments to me. I mean, I was a huge fan of his dad’s. And in fact, truth be know, I courted Kitty in little yellow Rambler convertible in the early 60s, because George Romney was the only guy in Detroit making a small, fuel-efficient car. And George was a fine governor and a darn good Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (an agency his kid wants to abolish), and in fact some of my best housing people worked for him at HUD and were big fans of his. He was one of those prototypical, better than just moderate republicans. He was a doer, he believed in this stuff, thought it was important, and that government had a role to play.
When Mitt first arrived on the scene, as a [Senate] candidate against [Ted] Kennedy, he sounded very much like his dad, in the best sense. And when he became governor, we all assumed this guy is going to be George Romney Junior. And to this day I really don't understand this guy. His economic record was a disaster. Fourth from bottom in job creation. And just a lot of talk and no action. He just didn't seem to understand how to a Governor moves an economy, and especially the economy of the old older urban communities in the state, which is where we have the most economic stress. Or the role of infrastructure in stimulating that.
But on the infrastructure stuff itself, the guy was just really pathetic. I mean, I was all for the fix-it first thing. I think you got a fix it first before you start new stuff, although there were a number of new projects that we wanted to move on. But he was kind of detached. He had a very weak transportation team. It was a guy named Daniel Grabauskas who was the secretary of transportation, who now of all things has been hired to run the Honolulu transit system. Don't ask me what they expect him to do out there. But he was very ineffective, very weak. They just couldn't get anything done. Projects that should have taken months took years.
And as you know, here in the state it's not just the highways, but it's the Metropolitan transit system and the commuter rail system. We had stations, T stations, that were under reconstruction for years under this guy. And I'll tell you one story which is typical. The Ashmont station on the red line is a big station in the Dorchester section of Boston. And it was kind of an old station and so they're going to do a major reconstruction and do some transit-oriented development there. So a team was designated to do affordable housing next to Ashmont Station. And they did it. In about 18 months it was up and running, leased and all that stuff. The station project, which went way over budget, went on and on and on. And at some press conference some reporter asked Romney, 'What about Ashmont?' Romney had no idea where Ashmont station was.
You know he's always been a puzzle to me. So we ended up with bridge projects that should have taken twelve months that were taking three or four years. When I said the state's infrastructure was a wreck when he left it, that was not an exaggeration I remember driving up 128, and honest to God nine out of ten bridges were covered with rust. I mean they couldn't even paint bridges. And as you know, if you don't paint the bridge for 200,000 bucks, pretty soon you're gonna have a reconstruction job for 3 million. They couldn't do it. He was kind of detached. And then of course in his last year and a half, it was all about the presidency, so we never saw him.
And look, I had the best state transportation Sec. in the country. I mean nobody's better than Fred Salvucci. Fred's just remarkable, and we did billions of dollars worth of construction, completely redid the T, and all this kind of stuff. We were deeply involved, he and I, in the fight to kill the master highway plan and shift some money to public transportation, which we were able to do. So it's a big thing with me, but Romney just couldn't do it.
Dellinger: But let me just challenge you. Talking about a governor's record, isn't there a delayed effect, especially when it comes to visible signs of transportation improvements? In fact, you even said it's going to take Gov. Deval Patrick his full two terms to fix all of this. But you're judging Romney on only one term.
Dukakis: Yeah but Patrick has turned this economy around. Were really moving around here. And Patrick has worked it. I mean worked it. Intensively. He hasn't been fooling around on this life sciences stuff. And it's working. Metropolitan Boston is just popping with activity. Patrick has been fully engaged in this, and actively so. Romney never was. I mean I don't want to go on anecdotally at great length, but one of the things a number of us suggested to Romney was that he do what I—and of course Deval has done a number of times, and that is take a major state project and put it in a distressed area as a stimulus for revitalization. When I was governor we did this a lot in our older urban communities.
One of the proposals we made to him—and in fact I met with him personally, the only time I met with him was early in his term—was take the state Department of public health, which had about 1000 employees and was occupying expensive downtown office space, and move them to the Dudley section of Boston, which is Roxbury, which is now in the process of revival thanks to the mayor. But putting 1000 state employees in the new building, or a reconstructed building would have been a huge stimulus for this revitalization. And a bunch of us went in to see him. He certainly understood it. Never produced. Just never produced. Whether he didn't get it, or didn't understand it. And in fact he would've saved the state money. Rents out there are a lot cheaper than they were in downtown Boston. Just another example of the guys inability either to understand how you do this, or to execute, or something. But Patrick, in his first term, has turned this thing around.
Dellinger: I guess what I'm getting at is that with infrastructure a governor faces not just challenges that started when he first took office. The bridges are rusting because we built a lot of things right after World War II that were last that were meant to last 50 years, and the egg timers all went off at the same time.
Dukakis: To be sure. But what does it take to paint a bridge?
Dellinger: Well even today Massachusetts is suffering under the weight of having to pay debt service on the Big Dig. Romney spoke of moving the state to it's post-Big-Dig future, focusing on repairs. But there simply wasn't a lot of money to go around.
Dukakis: Well, no. And the Big Dig was the result of sheer incompetence. I mean if Salvucci had been running that job it would have been done in half the time at half the cost. Trust me. And in fact I suggested to Weld when he took over that he ask Fred to stay on just to run the Big Dig. Well he rejected that advice. Fine and dandy. Then he picked a guy to run it was just utterly incompetent. But I'm not blaming Romney for the Big Dig. I mean that was largely the fault of Weld. But I'm not talking in terms of huge projects. I'm talking about bridge painting. I'm talking about bridge reconstructions, those kinds of things. Romney just couldn't do it. Just couldn't get it done. He didn't seem to be engaged. Didn't seem to understand the importance of it. Wasn't personally into it. And had a very very weak transportation team.
Dellinger: Can you point to specific things that you did, and that Gov. Patrick maybe is now doing, that were different, on a day-to-day level, with transportation?
Dukakis: Well first you got to pick good people. Got to pick good people. And then secondly you have to be personally into it. I mean I was just all over this thing. Now it happens to be a particular interest of mine. It's something I go way back on. I don't know whether you're familiar with the history of this place, but like everyone other metropolitan area, we were told that in order to solve our problems coming out of World War II in the sixties and seventies that we had to build a so-called master highway plan that involved eight lane expressway's into the heart of the city. I thought it was a prescription for disaster. And meanwhile the T was falling apart. It was a basket case.
Fred Salvucci and I were deeply involved in the 60s—I was a young legislator at the time—in ultimately fighting and killing the master Highway plan. We were the first state in the country, thanks to [Speaker of the House] Tip O'Neill, to be able to use our previously designated interstate highway money for public transportation. It had never been done before. This was back in the time when you couldn't bust the Highway trust fund had to be gasoline tax money had to be used for highways. And so Fred and I had literally about $3 billion in former highway money.
This was the mid-70s. When Ford, who was quite good on the stuff by the way, was President, and then Carter. But it was Tip and the congressional delegation that obviously made it possible for us to do that. And so we basically just did a huge job on the T. I mean massive modernization. We acquired the existing commuter rail system from the private railroads for a song and used the highway money to transform that. It's now carrying 150,000 people a day. That's just commuter rail not to mention the T itself. All stations, total reconstructions. And you know today we've got one of the best public transportation systems in the country, and it's made a huge huge difference. So I both as a legislator and the governor was into this and deeply committed to it.
Dellinger: I agree that where money is appropriated, to what mode, is a very key factor in determining outcome. And when I looked into Romney's budget, he did seem to put his dollars where his mouth was.
Dukakis: Just couldn't execute. That was his problem. Couldn't execute.
Dellinger: That sounds so subjective, though. What exactly does that mean?
Dukakis: He couldn't get it done.
Dellinger: His DOT couldn't get things done... on time?
Dukakis: He just wasn't engaged. I mean that's Romney. He's kind of out there someplace. He just doesn't get into it. For one thing I rode the T. It wasn't an act. I was riding it since I was five. It's amazing what you learn when you ride the transit system. And you know, I'm a huge national rail passenger guy. I was on the Amtrak board. Romney has just announced he's for abolishing, getting rid of all Amtrak subsidies. I don't know what the hell he's talking about. Is he serious? Amtrak just carried 30 million people this past year. I mean if this country doesn't need a first-class national rail passenger system, I don't know what it does need.
Dellinger: Paul Ryan's budget opines that "“high-speed rail and other new intercity rail projects should be pursued only if they can be established as self-supporting commercial services.” I assume you disagree that all new rail projects should be done as profitable businesses only?
Dukakis: There's no profitable— Well, we are making money on the Northeast corridor and the Acela. But were spending $40 billion in public subsidies on highways, $16 billion on air, and a billion and a half on Amtrak. Don't these guys understand? I mean where are they? I don't know what the hell they're talking about. Every mode of transportation, as you know, is subsidized. And rail and highway's and air are far more heavily subsidized than rail.
You go to Europe you go to Japan—Kitty and I went to South Korea a year ago where I'd been stationed back in the mid-50s—and it's embarrassing coming back from the United States after you've been over there. My God, they've got the best airport in the country, terrific transit in Seoul. Two high-speed rail lines. Couldn't find my unit in the DMZ because there's a huge new commuter rail station in what used to be a rice paddy when I was there. And here we are just stumbling around. I mean I just don't know what these guys are talking about.
Anyway that's my take on it, for whatever it's worth.
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.
Friday, August 17, 2012
The U.S. Department of Transportation is making freeing up $473 million in unspent highway earmarks for other projects "that will create jobs and help improve transportation." The move is intended to speed the stimulus and job creation impact of federal transportation spending, much of which goes to large projects that can take years to plan and execute.
President Barack Obama said, “We’re not going to let politics stand between construction workers and good jobs repairing our roads and bridges.”
According to the DOT, $473 million in highway earmarks remain unspent from 2003-2006 appropriations (full list here). Today's authorization allows state transportation departments to take that earmarked money and use it on other highway, transit, passenger rail or port projects.
Funds not re-obligated within a state by the end of the year can go to other states in the 2013 fiscal year, hence the headline in the White House press release "Use It or Lose It" (in full below)
Top Ten States with unused earmarks:
New York $29,031,287.86
Full Press Release:
Obama Administration on Idle Earmark Projects: Use It or Lose It “We Can’t Wait” Action Helps States Put People to Work, Improve Infrastructure
WASHINGTON, DC – The Obama Administration today announced that it won’t allow infrastructure funds to sit idle as a result of stalled earmark projects at a time when hundreds of thousands of construction workers are looking for work. U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is making over $470 million in unspent earmarks immediately available to states for projects that will create jobs and help improve transportation across the country.
“My administration will continue to do everything we can to put Americans back to work,” said President Barack Obama. “We’re not going to let politics stand between construction workers and good jobs repairing our roads and bridges.”
“We are freeing up these funds so states can get down to the business of moving transportation projects forward and putting our friends and neighbors back to work,” said Secretary LaHood.
President Obama has vowed to veto any bill that comes to his desk with earmarks and would support legislation to permanently ban earmarks. But $473 million in highway earmarks from FY2003-2006 appropriations acts remain unspent years later. Those acts contain provisions that authorize the Secretary to make the unused funds available for eligible surface transportation projects. Effective today, state departments of transportation will have the ability to use their unspent earmarked highway funds, some of which are nearly 10 years old, on any eligible highway, transit, passenger rail, or port project.
States must identify the projects they plan to use the funds for by October 1, and must obligate them by December 31, 2012.
“Particularly in these difficult fiscal times, states will be able to put these dollars to good use,” said Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez. “These funds will create jobs in the short term and help bring about what President Obama called ‘an America built to last.’”
To ensure that this funding is quickly put to good use to improve our nation’s infrastructure, funds not obligated by the December 31 deadline will be proportionally redistributed in FY 2013 to states that met the deadline.
A list of available funds by state can be accessed here: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
While the concern over the possibility of steep federal budget cuts in January mostly focuses on the Washington metropolitan region’s defense contractors, representatives of the aviation industry say sequestration – the Washington term for automatic budget cuts – could worsen your experience at airports and damage the economy.
The Federal Aviation Administration faces a $1 billion cut from its $15.9 billion budget if Congress cannot reach a deal on long-term deficit reduction by the end of the year. Sequestration would take effect Jan. 2. About three-quarters of the potential budget cut would affect the FAA’s day-to-day operations.
“It would be between 1,200 and 1,500 controllers that would be laid off. There would be the closing of some towers. You simply can’t operate the whole system at full speed if you don’t have the money,” said Marion Blakey, the head of the Arlington-based Aerospace Industries Association, a group that lobbies for the manufacturer and suppliers of aircraft.
While the safety of air travelers would be safeguarded, service at airports would suffer with fewer possible flights and longer lines to get through security, said Blakey, a former FAA administrator. The region’s economy would also take a hit, according to a report released by the Blakey’s group.
“An airport like BWI (Baltimore Washington International) generates over $5 billion in economic activity for the state of Maryland. You are going to lose some of that under this situation,” she said.
To what extent large and small airports would be affected remains to be seen. Congress could pass legislation to avoid sequestration or even defer it for several months, but if the budget cuts occur in early January it is unclear how many, if any, air traffic control towers would close. A spokesperson for the FAA referred reporters to a memo from the White House Office of Management and Budget.
“I don’t think I subscribe to the notion that they will shut down service in smaller communities. That’s a very unlikely scenario,” said Todd Hauptli, a vice president at the American Association of Airport Executives in Alexandria, which lobbies on behalf of airport managers and operators.
“My prediction is [sequestration] would end up being shorter rather than longer in part because of the impact on aviation and the traveling public,” Hauptli added. “I don’t think the American people will end up being very patient and I think Congress will be forced to act.”
The FAA may be forced to cut money from its ongoing endeavor to complete a satellite-based navigation system designed to improve the efficiency of airports’ operations, known as the Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen.
“Sequestration could deal a real body blow to NextGen because when you are trying to find money in a reduced budget, you tend to go to the investment accounts and the new developments because you have to keep the current operations,” said Blakey, who helped launch the NextGen project while at the FAA.
Whether you are a lobbyist with an interest in keeping the FAA’s operations at full speed or just a traveler taking a vacation, sequestration could result in the same frustrations borne from lawmakers’ failure to compromise.
“I referred to sequestration as the sword of Damocles that was supposed to be hanging over the head of Congress forcing them to act,” said Hauptli. “It hasn’t worked so far but I’m still hopeful that it will work before it has to kick in.”
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Mica says Adams put him through the most negative campaign ever. Reapportionment left Mica and Adams -- who currently represents Space Coast-based District 24 -- battling for the same seat.
“We tried to stay positive and respond where we could," said Mica, "but it was probably the most negative campaign I’ve ever had to experience and made it very unpleasant for me and my family.”
In the weeks leading to the election, Tea Party favorite Sandy Adams piled on the pressure, labeling Mica a big spending, establishment Republican -- as well as a cheerleader for President Obama.
But Mica won by a wide margin in the end, capturing 61% of the vote.
“I don’t think we’ve every mobilized anything like this in our lives," he told supporters at a sports bar just north of Orlando on Tuesday night. "It was a very difficult race. I could tell you that everything but the kitchen sink was thrown at us but I’d have to include the cabinets and all the appliances too.”
He said his victory showed "the heart and soul of the Republican Party is doing fine in Central Florida."
University of Central Florida Political Science Professor Aubrey Jewett said he wasn’t surprised at the vitriol in the race.
“Certainly it’s been negative, certainly it’s been personal, but that often happens in primaries where the candidates are very much alike on policy," said Jewett. "These two people are very conservative Republicans when it comes to policy.”
Jewett said what was unusual about the race was the fact that redistricting put two incumbent Republicans in the same district.
“It’s just virtually unheard of in the country that in a state where you gained two seats -- Florida now has two more congressional seats than it did before -- that you end up with two fairly high profile, popular Republicans in the same district. I mean it just doesn’t happen."
Jewett said the nature of the race forced Mica to downplay his record of helping to bring big projects to the district -- like the SunRail commuter train -- which are usually selling points for an incumbent.
Speaking at her campaign headquarters in Maitland, Sandy Adams said she was pleased the race brought the focus back to conservative values. She told Central Florida News 13 she's unsure of her political future.
"I’m a firm believer that when one door closes another one opens and I follow the path I’m led. So we’ll see.”
Mica, who heads the influential House Transportation Committee, says he wants to continue in that role -- but that’s up to House leadership.
He says he also plans to continue with a campaign to cut unnecessary spending in government.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
By Martin DiCaro : WAMU
One of the largest freight carriers in the country is riding into the presidential election with a nationwide television advertising campaign designed to spark debate about infrastructure.
Virginia-based Norfolk Southern’s CGI-laden, Toy Story-esque advertisements show a boy falling asleep in his bedroom while his toys come to life, creating a thriving city that his train set races around. The release of the media campaign is timed to coincide with the Republican and Democratic national conventions, where the freight company will have a strong presence. According to AdWeek, Norfolk Southern is also a sponsor of CNN's election coverage.
“Wherever our trains go, the economy comes to life,” says the narrator.
"One of the points Norfolk Southern likes to make is that they invest in their own infrastructure,” says Jim Lansbury, creative director at RP3, the ad agency behind the campaign. "Airlines don't build airports and trucking companies don't build highways."
The American Society of Civil Engineers’ estimates that $2.2 trillion over five years is needed to modernize the country's infrastructure, from levees and dams to highways and bridges. The federal government's primary funding source for transportation projects is the gas tax, but there's little chance it will be raised.
“Gas tax revenues and receipts have been lagging behind what we want to spend on transportation at the federal level,” says Rachel MacCleery, a transportation expert at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, who says about 25 percent of all transportation spending nationwide flows from Congress.
“The Obama administration, early in the administration, has taken the gas tax off the table,” MacCleery adds. The 18-cent-per-gallon tax has not been raised since 1993.
With funding for projects tight, states like Virginia are turning to public/private partnerships to build major highways.
Funding major transportation projects that promise to create jobs has become a partisan issue, especially during a presidential election season. There is little enthusiasm for a new stimulus bill.
“Where you see lots of progress in infrastructure investments it definitely is a bipartisan effort,” says MacCleery. While overall spending figures are important, where the investments are made is equally critical. “Are we building the kinds of infrastructure systems that will help sustain the 21st century economy and really thinking about conservation? Are we maintaining the infrastructure we have now?”
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
“Sharp” is a word you may have heard a lot these past few days. It’s a favorite descriptor for Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Congressman who became Mitt Romney’s running mate as of Saturday morning. Sharp, say friends and foes alike, are Ryan’s appearance, his mind, his criticisms of President Barack Obama, the spending reductions he favors—and now, somewhat suddenly, the contrast between the policies embodied by the presumptive Republican challengers and those of the incumbent Democrats. It is a perceived sharpness that itself stands in contrast, of course, to Mitt Romney’s pre-Ryan candidacy, which many commentators found too muddled and many conservatives found too moderate.
Take transportation, for instance. Romney, as this blog observed, spoke and behaved as a metro-friendly moderate when he was Governor of Massachusetts. Romney’s transportation budgets were modally balanced, with an emphasis on fixing what already existed, and he worked hard to create a new state agency to encourage smart growth development and sustainability. A candidate who still believed in those principles might not have many sharp things to say about transportation in a debate with President Barack Obama.
The Obama Administration subscribes to the belief, by no means exclusive to liberals, that infrastructure spending is crucial to creating jobs and keeping America competitive. Judging from Paul Ryan’s budget blueprint, the newly tapped V.P. candidate takes issue not with just the dollar figures required to test Obama's idea, but the philosophy itself.
“Mr. Ryan voted against every piece of transportation legislation proposed by Democrats when they controlled the lower chamber between 2007 and early 2010, with the exception of a bill subsidizing the automobile industry to the tune of $14 billion in loans in December 2008. This record included a vote against moving $8 billion into the highway trust fund in July 2008 (the overall vote was 387 to 37), a bill that was necessary to keep transportation funding at existing levels of investment. Meanwhile, he voted for a failed amendment that would have significantly cut back funding for Amtrak and voted against a widely popular bill that would expand grants for public transportation projects. He did vote in favor of the most recent transportation bill extension.”
These votes of Ryan's weren’t a matter of toeing the party line, either. Republican House Transportation Chairman John Mica, for instance, took the other side on every one of these votes except the failed amendment cutting funding for Amtrak.
But no budget hawk is perfect. Ryan did show a certain weakness for transportation dollars back when George W. Bush was President. In July of 2005, he joined the 412-8 majority in voting for the infamously pork-laden, “bridge-to-nowhere”-building reauthorization bill SAFETEA-LU. And then he sent out a press release listing all of the earmarks he had won for his district, including $7.2 million for the widening of I-94 between the Illinois state line and Milwaukee, $3.2 million for a bypass around Burlington, and $2.4 million for work on I-43 in Rock County. Small authorizations were also secured for preliminary engineering work on the Kenosha streetcar expansion project and Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail. Ryan’s press release boasted that the state of Wisconsin was still a donee state, getting back $1.06 for every federal tax dollar, up from $1.02 the previous authorization. But “there’s no gas tax increase, and it draws on the Highway Trust Fund – not general revenues – for transportation spending, and it’s fair for Wisconsin gas tax payers.”
Five years later, as we know, it became unfashionable, gauche even, to be seen indulging in earmarks and other federal largess. In November 2010, that Tea Party autumn, Republican Scott Walker won the governorship of Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin after a campaign that made a major issue of the Milwaukee-to-Madison high speed rail “boondoggle.” In a television commercial, Walker said he’d rather use the $810 million to fix Wisconsin’s roads and bridges. But the money wasn’t fungible. As Walker and Florida Governor Rick Scott soon had to admit, turning down the money only meant re-gifting it to high speed rail projects in other, bluer, more grateful states.
Paul Ryan tried to change that. Just a few days after Walker’s election, he and two fellow Wisconsin Republicans co-sponsored legislation in the House to order returned high-speed rail money deposited into the general fund for the purposes of deficit reduction. The bill would have changed the political dynamic of federal high-speed rail funding had it passed, placing new pressure on any governor who accepted those grants. For whatever reason, the bill never left committee.
When Ryan became Chairman of the House Budget Committee, in 2011, he put forth a 2012 budget that, reflecting Ryan’s commitment not to raise the gas tax or draw from the general fund, reduced transportation spending from its 2011 level of $95 billion gradually down to $66 billion in 2015. That was at a time when the Obama Administration was proposing a six-year infrastructure outlay of $476 billion “to modernize the country’s transportation infrastructure, and pave the way for long-term economic growth.”
But there’s the rub. Chairman Ryan refutes that premise. In his budget, transportation spending is not economic investment. To quote the 2013 budget:
In the ﬁrst two years of the Obama administration, funding for the Department of Transportation grew by 24 percent–and that doesn’t count the stimulus spike, which nearly doubled transportation spending in one year. The mechanisms of federal highway and transit spending have become distorted, leading to imprudent, irresponsible, and often downright wasteful spending. Further, however worthy some highway projects might be, their capacity as job creators has been vastly oversold, as demonstrated by the extravagant but unfulﬁlled promises that accompanied the 2009 stimulus bill, particularly with regard to high-speed rail.
The document goes on to say that the country’s fiscal challenges make “long-term subsidization infeasible,” and that “high-speed rail and other new intercity rail projects should be pursued only if they can be established as self-supporting commercial services.” (It’s unclear whether Ryan believes that new highways should also be built as self-supporting commercial services. But he should give Rick Perry a call before saying so publicly.)
With Ryan now on the Republican ticket, one can see more clearly the (sharper) contours of the general election debate, and infrastructure spending might just have a starring role. It’s there in the debate over the federal budget, and the federal funding role. It’s at the crux of the hullabaloo over “You didn’t build that” (a government theory Elizabeth Warren articulated better). And it will be there when Paul Ryan debates Amtrak Joe.
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.
Friday, August 10, 2012
The chair of the House Transportation Committee finds himself in a scrappy fight for re-election, but he's standing his ground and turning to mobility metaphors to express his confidence: "I think I have some life left on the odometer," he said, touting the benefits of his seniority in the house. Meanwhile, his opponent, Sandy Adams, is pointedly using his Washington experience against him.
Mica's U.S. Congressional District 7 used to stretch from his home in Winter Park, metro Orlando to Ponte Vedra, a seaside town 130 miles north, not far from Jacksonville. Redistricting shifted the boundaries closer to Orlando, and District 7 now centers on Seminole County, just north of Orlando's exurbs. Neighboring District 24 -- currently represented by Sandy Adams -- moved South, leaving Adams to scrap with Mica in the Republican primary.
As the influential chair of the U.S. House Transportation Committee, Mica has been in Congress nearly 20 years, long enough for people to know who he is. Under siege from his opponent Sandy Adams, he’s flying his conservative colors and highlighting his record as a whistle blower on wasteful spending.
“You get to election year, and people want to know what you’ve done, and what you stand for, and I think I’ve got a very strong record of cutting waste, government bureaucracy and also of providing leadership,” says Mica.
But Adams says he's exactly the kind of insider politician voters don't want.
Adams also criticized Mica over a highway tolling provision in the recently passed highway funding bill.
"It was his bill, he put the tolls on I-4 after telling people he would not," says Adams. "That’s a career politician.
"That's total political malarkey," says Mica. He says the bill preserves free lanes and stipulates if new toll lanes are built, “then you have to use the money for the construction or to reduce indebtedness, which would reduce or eliminate the tolls."
And Mica says he's no cheerleader for the Obama administration.
"It's totally absurd, taken out of context," says Mica. "I am the best cheerleader in Congress for transportation and getting people working."
"I was able to defeat Harry Reid and get a transportation bill done that the Democrats couldn't do, an FAA bill that cut Harry Reid's $3,720 airline ticket subsidies, so I'm not the best friend of either Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi or Barack Obama."
After nearly a decade in Tallahassee as a Florida state representative, Adams is no political newcomer, but she’s staking her claim as a cost cutting outsider.
“I am not a career politician," says Adams. " I am, and remain, a citizen legislator.”
She says the choice is clear for voters on August 14th in the Republican primary. "They have a choice between a 20-year career Washington politician, or someone that they sent less than two years ago to fix the mess he helped create."
Adams defeated a Democrat in 2010, but this time she’s up against a formidable Republican. "I'm sort of the rock of Gibraltar," says Mica, who says District 7 needs a representative with his staying power and leadership.
And in the highly competitive 435 member U.S. Congress, Mica says his seniority is a good thing. "It will easily be another decade-and-a-half before another full committee chair comes from Central Florida, just because of seniority."
Mica's clout has allowed him to out-raise his opponent nearly two to one. At the end of July, his campaign had nearly a million dollars cash in hand while Adams had half that.
After a Rotary lunch meeting in Orlando Thursday where both Mica and Adams spoke, Mica was quick to quash any suggestion he'd paid for a high profile endorsement from former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. "Oh absolutely not. You don't know what a stingy bastard I am. I wouldn't pay anybody for an endorsement."
Meanwhile Adams' campaign has picked up steam in recent days, with an online fundraising site raking in nearly $30,000 in just over 24 hours.
"We're doing just fine," says Adams.
There's also a Democratic primary in District 7, with new-deal Democrat Nicholas Ruiz up against blue-dog Jason Kendall for a chance to take on the winner of the Mica-Adams contest.
Jason Kendall says if he makes it through his primary, there are enough moderates to give him votes in November.
"Sandy’s something of an extremist," says Kendall. " Getting endorsed by Allan West or Sarah Palin might work in some places but I know a lot of people were really turned off by that endorsement.”
Both Republican candidates have a strong base of supporters, but there are some who still haven't made up their minds, like Steve Grier, who was at a recent Mitt Romney campaign event in Orlando. Grier said he wants to learn more about Adams and Mica.
"I like a lot of things about John Mica," he said. "I know that he was for SunRail, which I’m not real crazy about that aspect. But that remains to be seen. Honestly, I’ve had my eyes more on the presidential aspect of the race.”