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Lawmakers Encourage Conference Attendees to Make Strong Case for Transit
First Ever ‘Capitol Hill Summit Kickoff’ Held
BY KATHERINE LEWIS,Special to Passenger Transport

Reps. Steven LaTourette (R-OH) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) urged APTA members to make the case for public transportation investment to revitalize the struggling U.S. economy when they addressed a March 14 session of the 2011 APTA Legislative Conference in Washington.

APTA’s first ever “Capitol Hill Summit Kickoff” was organized to rally its members before they visited their representatives on the Hill.

LaTourette told conference participants not to visit their lawmakers’ offices wringing their hands over the budget situation and pleading to be kept to the funding levels set in Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). “You have to go in and say: ‘Listen, this is an important thing. Gas prices are expected to hit $5 this summer. How are we going to move people, how are we going to employ people, how are we going to build America, how are we going to put people back to work, unless we have a robust funding stream in the transportation sector?’” he said.

The recent series of short-term federal budget extensions makes it impossible for transportation policymakers to plan, LaTourette said. But, he continued, the challenge in attempting to pass a six-year transportation authorization bill is what the funding source will be.

“At the end of the day, unless we raise the gas tax, unless we exercise some excise fee on barrels of oil, unless we take the pilot program that’s now underway with vehicle miles traveled, unless we make a decision to toll more, the trust fund keeps limping along at $32 or $34 billion a year,” LaTourette said. “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”

Blumenauer said he’s happy to support a gas tax increase and to explore an oil barrel tax, emphasizing the importance of connecting road use with energy efficiency. While the cost per mile traveled has fallen by 50 percent since the last gas tax increase due to increases in efficiency and inflation, he nonetheless noted:  “The cost of wear and tear, congestion, expansion, maintenance have not declined.”

Public transportation made it possible for the city of Portland, OR, to create such an appealing quality of life “that people feel like they’re retiring,” Blumenauer said. At the local level, transportation policy cuts across partisan lines—the bipartisan support that APTA members need to communicate to federal lawmakers.

“If you can help us translate that broad bipartisan support for what you are doing locally, for having a reasonable federal partnership, it will make a huge difference for people like Steve and me to be able to advocate for you going forward,” Blumenauer said.

APTA Vice Chair Gary Thomas, president/executive director of Dallas Area Rapid Transit, urged transit leaders to keep preaching the importance of public transportation and give relevant, local information to lawmakers. “You’ve got the opportunity to talk to your congressmen and women about what’s happening in your community. You’ve got the opportunity to tell them how many people you carry every day,” Thomas said.

Stephanie Vance of Advocacy Associates told the audience to be persistent and follow up with lawmakers’ offices after a meeting. Ask for something specific, connect your visit with their constituents’ needs, and don’t be discouraged if you end up meeting with young staffers rather than a member of Congress, she added.

“They are quite young, but actually often it’s better to meet with the staff because they have a little bit more time to get to know you and your issues,” she said.


Reps. Earl Blumenauer, left, and Steven LaTourette address the Capitol Hill Summit Kickoff. 

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