Wednesday, December 17, 2008

More LaHood Background Information

I've never seen the word "Really?" on as many blogs or news articles as I did today on this pick. So I did a bit of digging and read a few emails, here's some more background on the nominated Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Yonah covers in detail (as usual) a few of his past transportation details. He covers some Amtrak in LaHood's home town, making a rail ROW into a trail instead of preserving it for future service, and funding for a local road project.

Modemocrat at DailyKos has a bit of background on LaHood from a bit of a political angle for the pick. He discusses why this might be a savvy political move and how his ability to work with republicans could possibly be a boon for big infrastructure projects due to his knowledge of the appropriations process.

In the same vein at the Prospect, Dana Goldstien makes the argument that this appointment could possibly neutralize transit as an urban snob issue.

In my opinion, his appropriations knowledge and closeness to congress might be a strike against him as he is too familiar with the process and could be slow to change it (we know it needs to get deep sixed), or understand the changes that need to be made in say the New Starts program. There are a lot of little details that need changing. Will he know as Robert notes, "...the FRA's weight rules? Does he support 80/20 funding for mass transit?" Things of that nature.

Austin Bike Blog notes that LaHood is a member of the congressional bike caucus. It's quite the long list but he was supportive of Congressman Blumenaur's commuter benefits package. Looking through some back news, he was one of two Republicans that voted in committee to keep funding for bike improvements in the 2003 transportation appropriations bill. It was initially ripped out by Rep. Istook of OK. LaHood even testified on the house floor for the bike and ped enhancements.

He's not without his bad connections as well. He tried along with Rep Culbertson of Houston (who was the target of one of my first posts ever) to keep Rep Chris Bell from filing ethics complaints against Tom Delay. He also praised a member of his constituency on the floor in 1997 who was appointed VP to the Petroleum Marketers Association of America. Though he was in the Pig Book for earmarking green building tech, his environmental record is pretty shoddy.

He also supported (H/T AK) an Interstate connection to Chicago but later pulled back on that, working to fund local freeways instead.

The largest employer in his district is Caterpillar, a heavy machinery company that makes earthmovers and backhoes. He's also earmarked funds for CAT. Yes CAT machinery is used to build roads. Perhaps they should start into the rail machinery now.

A few of the related bills good or bad that he has co-sponsored recently (with a lot of other people):

Commuter Act of 2008 - To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow employers a refundable credit against income tax for 50 percent of the employer's cost of providing tax-free transit passes to employees.

Recognizing Importance of Bicycling as Transportation and Recreation Res

Bicycle Fringe Benefit - To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to extend the transportation fringe benefit to bicycle commuters.

As for regular transit, after his Amtrak talk and possible anti-HSR stance, there is nothing about buses or light rail anywhere, at least that I could find. I'll keep looking for more information tomorrow.


Rollie Fingers said...

Are there any transit-savvy reporters that might be covering his inaugural press conference? I fear that he'll do a presser and nobody will ask him any hard questions about transit.

Anonymous said...

he'll probably be ok but i think it is clear he wont be the change agent for transportation policy... "transportation" will probably continue to more or less mean 70% highways, 25% aviation, 4% transit and 1% amtrak. i'm waiting to hear both obama and lahood when this is official friday and whether we hear "roads and bridges" or "roads, bridges and...".

then again most transportation policy will probably be coming from congress and i think there are some good people in key positions here.

ABC said...

I don't think it's fair to say that Cat machinery equates to road construction. There are plenty of Cat diggers, graders, and miscellaneous used in every new rail project. In addition, Cat is also a company that frequently flirts with entering the railroad locomotive business, and I believe that some of its engines are currently in use in newer, more environmentally friendly diesel engines used in switching operations (so-called "green goats").

Now that that nitpick is over, I think you have a choice here. You can either hope for a big infrastructure boom, or for funding reform, but I don't think you can realistically look for both. What's more important for the next two year, getting things built, or getting bogged down in red-tape and proceedure?

That said, I get increasingly uncomfortable these days when I read local papers and see everyone predicting an infrastructure boom as soon as Obama is sworn in. The man is not made of money. There is just no possible way he can fund even a tenth of the laundry lists that are making eyes glow around here, especially when you consider that almost every other region is experiencing the same "Dear Santa Clause" phenomenon.

THis all leaves aside whether or not Obama will stick to his pledge of a "new way" of politics, and funds projects consistently based on merits, regardless of whether that project benefits a Republican area (the South) or an area that didn't really matter in the election (low population areas such as the Pacific Northwest of the inner West.)

Anonymous said...

The Federal Government has discovered this wondrous new technology called the printing press, which allows it to print as many little green bits of paper as it wants to. The Federal Goverment can fund anything it damn well wants to, it's just a matter of getting the political will to run up huge deficits.