As I reported in my last column, the new House majority has cast a vote that signaled a very tough fight this year. Their vote to change the rules to water down the authorized levels of federal funding for public transportation and highways for more than a decade was only the beginning.
Before this issue gets in your hands, we will know whether the House was successful in rolling back public transportation and high-speed rail funding by killing all New Starts, Small Starts, and high-speed and intercity passenger rail funding that was enacted the past two years, but not yet awarded to states and cities. Whether they are successful or not, however, the new House leadership is in stark contrast to what President Obama proposed in the same month. In releasing its budget proposal for next year, the Obama Administration asked for a doubling of the New Starts program and another $8 billion for high-speed rail for next year. In total, the president proposes $22.4 billion for public transportation programs, as part of a proposed $50 billion boost in infrastructure funding to help create jobs and stimulate the economy. In other words, House leadership and the president could not be farther apart when it comes to public transportation investment.
Nevermind the parade of studies and expert testimony in congressional committee hearings touting that past funding stimulated economic growth and helped create jobs. This is more fundamental than that. This crop of conservatives simply doesn't believe the federal government has a role in developing the infrastructure we need to stay competitive in the global economy. They simply don't believe the reports and experts. Because conservatives at least say they want to help private sector economic growth, the supply side of public transportation needs to visit these elected officials and show that there is a supply side and that Congress needs to continue to support it.
Time to raise our game
Already, business leaders have been vocal about how the federal transit program keeps them in business. APTA's business members held press conferences and events at their facilities, testified in congressional hearings, and visited the offices of their elected representatives in D.C. and their districts.
Conservatives have overreached before and, afterward, became some of the best advocates for public transportation. In fact, the last two authorization bills were passed when Republicans were in the majority. The challenge this time is that there are more new faces than the last time they overreached. That just means we have more work to do.