Wednesday, January 29, 2014

SOTU 2014 and Transportation

It was good to see the President on his game and taking the initiative, which I think is good for everyone.  He appears to have gotten through a rough patch caused by SNAFUs in implementing the Affordable Care Act, which were amplified by a furious and implacable opposition party and a press that has gone negative. 
Transportation got at least a mention in the speech, though not prominent attention.  The President said we “need Congress” to undertake “finishing” a transportation bill “this summer.”  He even went so far as to suggest a revenue source for “rebuilding our roads, upgrading our ports, unclogging our commutes.”  Unfortunately, that proposed revenue source is money saved from proposed tax reform.  Seeing any money from that source, let alone seeing it sent to transportation, seems to be a long shot at best.  Even if it were to happen, it would move us farther away from a self-funded transportation trust fund and closer to an annual competition for general revenues with unemployment benefits, food stamps, education, etc.
Of more immediate concern, do the President’s remarks mean that transportation reauthorization will be on the agenda for the “breakthrough year” he is urging?  Will the Administration be fully engaged, even on the revenue question?  It’s possible, and we can hope, but the signs so far have been mixed at best. 
Some other thoughts:
·      “Climate change is a fact” – that’s right.  “The debate is settled” – maybe among scientists and rational people.
·      “In today's global economy, first-class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure” – yes!3
·      Prominence given to natural gas, which is controversial and problematic in many ways, nothing about electric power, which is on the streets today and could be scaled up more easily.  Not sure why.
·      Climate change could have been (and still could be) the lead-in to discussion of a transformative new surface transportation authorization bill.  This should happen.

·      I know it’s too much to hope for, but in a better world we would have heard about the power of transportation investment as a stimulus (yes, the “s” word) to reinvigorate our still-too-sluggish economy – and a reminder that it can do so in a balanced, noninflationary way through ramping up a gas tax increase (yes, the “gt” words) in pace with economic recovery.

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