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The Hill–Obama victory likely to preserve highway, Amtrak funding

By Admin

[By Keith Laing of The Hill]

President Obama’s reelection is likely to ensure efforts to privatize Amtrak service and cut transportation funding will be unsuccessful.

Unsuccessful Republican nominee Mitt Romney had repeatedly pledged to eliminate government funding for Amtrak, and GOP vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget would have limited transportation funding to revenues generated by the federal gas tax.

“I think Amtrak is safe and surface transportation levels are safe,” Joshua Schank, president of the nonpartisan Eno Center for Transportation, said in an assessment of the election.

“I’d be very surprised to see the president and a Democratic Senate accept a cut” to transportation funding, Schank continued.

Schank said Obama’s win could make it more likely that negotiations on a deal on federal debt levels will begin soon, but he said lawmakers may leave transportation funding out of the mix.

“People may say you just passed MAP-21, you’re good until 2014,” Schank said of the $105-billion Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century bill lawmakers approved in the summer.

AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Ed Wytkind similarly declared that Obama’s reelection was a “good night for transportation.”

The AFL-CIO had endorsed Obama over Republican nominee Mitt Romney, and Wytkind said the GOP candidate’s stance on transportation issues was rejected by voters.

“You had a candidate for president who wanted to eliminate quote ‘government transit’ … you had a candidate who wanted to zero out Amtrak except for the parts that can make money,” Wytkind said. “I think that vision was clearly rejected.”

Wytkind said the TTD would fight to make sure transportation funding is not reduced in any debt deal that is negotiated by lawmakers in the coming months.

“Our job is to make the case that transportation funding can’t be a casualty in any sort of deal because the nation can’t sustain anymore cuts to transportation,” Wytkind said.

Schank said that although the election maintained a status quo of Democrats controlling the White House and the Senate and Republicans having power in the House, there would be changes to the transportation committees in Congress.

“[Sen. Jim] Inhofe [R-Okla.] leaving changes the dynamic at EPW,” Schank said of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Inhofe helped shepherd the MAP-21 bill through the closely-divided Senate earlier this year. But he is facing a term-limit as ranking member when Congress convenes its 113th session next year.

“The crazy Boxer-Inhofe dynamic that seems to have produced legislation is going away,” Schank said.

The House Transportation Committee is likely to be taken over by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who Schank said is “closer to leadership” than current chairman Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.).

“I expect that committee to be active next year,” he said.