Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer dropped into a meeting of the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation (JPACT) Thursday morning to share an overview of what to expect from the Biden Administration.
“If there’s an opportunity to jumpstart some of the regional investments, I think we ought to fully explore and work together to make that successful.”
JPACT is an influential body convened by Metro that has several mayors and other high-profile elected officials and transportation leaders from around the region on its roster list. The regional manager of ODOT is a member. So is new PBOT Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty.
“I was disappointed with the regional response to the ballot measure,” Blumenauer said at the outset of his remarks. “But it’s a process for us to step back, reflect and learn.”
Blumenauer set the table for his address by listing the myriad crises facing America and said Congress is at its most divisive state “since the Civil War”. The good news now is that we finally have a “grown-up” in the White House, who is “dedicated to governance” he said, in reference to President Joe Biden.
As for the prospects of a transportation infrastructure bill on Capitol Hill in the near future, Blumenauer sounded very positive. While votes in the House and Senate might be tight on most issues these days, Blumenauer said he’s hopeful transportation will be different. “I hope that the broad recognition that investing, rebuilding and renewing America is something that doesn’t have to be partisan.”
Whatever happens, Blumenauer made it clear Oregon is poised to have an influence and reap benefits. Blumenauer’s long-time colleague and fellow Oregonian, Representative Peter DeFazio is chair of the all-important House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. And Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is now chair of the Senate Finance Committee. This means Oregonians are in key transportation policy and purse-string positions.
“We’re in a great position, having two key people on two key committees, moving this forward,” Blumenauer said.
Blumenauer also shared insights on how Congress will likely pay for new transportation investments. He said the chances of the federal government supporting a gas tax increase or tolling is very unlikely. Blumenauer referred to a gas tax increase as a “dead end for us” and that he doesn’t want to spend time fighting for something that has no chance of passing. The one revenue method he prefers is something Oregon happens to have been a pioneer on: A road user charge.
Blumenauer feels a road user charge can be more precisely targeted to avoid inequities and can “manage transportation behavior in a more granular fashion.” He spoke of a potential “grand bargain” where road user fees would be “concentrated on those who are creating the problem and the expensive solutions” and rural and small town residents would get a break.
At the end of his remarks, Blumenauer told the assembled leaders that Congressional earmarks are on their way back. The idea of earmarks — where members of Congress get funding for pet projects back in their district — ended several years ago after the failure of high-profile bridge project in Alaska made them politically toxic. Blumenauer said this morning they’ll return under a new name: “congressionally directed spending.”
Blumenauer said the new program will have much higher standards of transparency to “make sure there is no question of abuse or misappropriation”.
Bringing it back to Metro’s regional investment measure voters rejected in November, Blumenauer said, “If there’s an opportunity to jumpstart some of the regional investments, I think we ought to fully explore and work together to make that successful.”
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
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