Transportation bill a prime chance for bipartisan achievement in a divided governmentNovember 3, 2010
By Stephen Lee Davis
One of the biggest surprises of Tuesday’s election was the change in leadership in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The chairmanship will change as the Republicans took the House, as expected, but Chairman James Oberstar’s surprise loss in his re-election bid will shake up the leadership as Democrats become the new minority.
What this all means for the multi-year transportation bill is still unclear.
Regardless of the changes in political makeup or committee leadership, Congress is almost certain to be taking up a long-term bill in 2011, with the Administration set to release its proposal for a multi-year transportation early next session. Interestingly, infrastructure may be one area where we can hope for bipartisan action, Transportation for America director James Corless said in a statement today:
“Now that the election is behind us, it is time for Congress and the Administration to put partisan acrimony aside and get to work on one bill that is absolutely vital for economic recovery and long-term prosperity: the multi-year transportation authorization that has languished since expiring in September of last year.
Historically, this is one arena in which both Democrats and Republicans have been able to work together, and this time should be no different. Previous bills have been passed by divided governments under presidents Nixon, Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Clinton. Updating this bill for the 21st century would be a huge win for rural areas undergoing difficult change, for metropolitan areas in desperate need of more and better travel options and for an economy that absolutely must become more efficient in energy use and goods movement if we are to succeed globally.”
In a speech this afternoon, President Obama referenced infrastructure as an issue that can help bring the two parties together in the coming months as a Democratic President and Senate try to work together with a Republican House of Representatives to get things done.
The ultimate impact of the election on the transportation bill won’t really be known until the bill is finally taken up, but there was plenty of immediate good news for transportation in states, counties and cities across the country yesterday.
Proving once again that when the issue is made transparent, accountable and local, Americans will vote for improving transportation options, often voting in favor of raising their own taxes to pay the cost, 75 percent of local ballot measures on transportation were approved yesterday according to the Center for Transportation Excellence, a nonpartisan research center.
California’s high-speed rail project will stay on track, as Jerry Brown won a second turn as governor nearly 30 years after his first term. He’s pledged to continue the state’s ambitious high-speed rail program that the voters have already partially funded through a recent ballot measure. (Coincidentally, Brown was talking about high-speed rail in California back in the 1970′s when he was first Governor.)
Some of the highlights:
- Californians approved a measure that would keep the state from raiding funds dedicated to transportation and transit — one of the reasons nearly every CA transit agency found themselves in a budget crisis in the last two years.
- Voters in Clayton County, GA., where bus service was cancelled outright earlier this year, approved a non-binding referendum that demonstrated broad support for joining the region’s MARTA transit system by paying local taxes into the system.
- Residents in a half dozen or more Michigan cities of all sizes voted to extend or increase property tax hikes to support local transit systems. (Some of these were voted on in August)
- Fairfax County residents in suburban Washington, D.C., voted to support their continued payment into the regional WMATA system.
For a more comprehensive rundown of the election results and their potential impact, read the full summary from CFTE and keep up to date with coverage from The Transport Politic, Streetsblog Capitol Hill and others.