Skip to content

Posts from the "Earl Blumenauer" Category

No Comments

Concrete Proposals for Raising Gas Tax Finally on the Table

After a lot of vague talk about transportation revenues since the passage of MAP-21 — “everything is on the table” and “we need to think outside the box” — real proposals are finally being presented.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer is introducing a bill to raise the gas tax by 15 cents a gallon. Photo: Michael Clapp/##http://www.opb.org/news/article/wyden-blumenauer-address-security-and-privacy-concerns/##OPB##

Rep. Earl Blumenauer is introducing a bill to raise the gas tax by 15 cents a gallon. Photo: Michael Clapp/OPB

A few months ago, House Transportation Committee Chair Bill Shuster told me, “The surest way to kill something is to get out there way far in front before anything is possible.” He said you’ve got to figure out when the timing is right.

Apparently, it’s right now.

Tomorrow, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) will introduce a bill to raise the federal gas tax by 15 cents a gallon, the amount suggested a few years back by the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission.

The proposal would go a long way toward solving the immediate problem: The Highway Trust Fund is projected to be flat broke by the time a new transportation bill needs to be negotiated next year. But it still doesn’t tie the tax to inflation or the price of gas, so Congress would still periodically need to take on the politically difficult task of voting to raise it. And in the long term, it could prove unsustainable to keep transportation funding tied to gas consumption, which is dropping with greater fuel efficiency and less driving.

Still, when Blumenauer announces his bill tomorrow, he’ll be flanked by people representing labor, business, transit, transportation reform groups, and road builders. All of those interests have been banging the drum for greater transportation investment for years. They are not picky about how the revenue gets raised.

Read more…

No Comments

Blumenauer, Bipartisan Co-Sponsors Set Out to Improve Street Safety Metrics

After a long period of inaction on Capitol Hill, the wheels are beginning to turn again. Lawmakers introduced not one but two good transportation-related bills yesterday: one that aims to improve the safety of walking and biking and one that would establish a national infrastructure bank.

A new bill could mean fewer ghost bikes. Photo: ##http://photoblog.statesman.com/a-ghost-bike-and-a-memorial-bike-ride-for-andrew-runciman-hit-and-run-victim##Collective Vision##

Better performance measures could mean fewer ghost bikes. Photo: Collective Vision

We’ll get into the infrastructure bank bill in a separate post. First, let’s look at the bill Rep. Earl Blumenauer introduced last night. The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act (HR 3494) would establish performance measures for pedestrian and cyclist safety.

Specifically, it would direct U.S. DOT to create metrics for states to assess and address “serious injuries and fatalities per vehicle mile traveled” and “the number of serious injuries and fatalities” for “non-motorized transportation” — a.k.a. walking and biking. Current law has no such emphasis on active transportation.

Reps. Howard Coble of North Carolina and Mike McCaul of Texas — both Republicans — co-sponsored the bill, along with Rep. Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat. They are all members of the Congressional Bike Caucus, which Blumenauer founded.

In his statement on the bill, Blumenauer noted that the number of bike commuters has increased by more than 60 percent over the last decade. “As transportation systems adjust to handle different types of road users, the federal government must encourage appropriate standards to ensure road user safety,” he said.

Pedestrians and bicyclists accounted for 17 percent of traffic fatalities last year — a proportion that’s on the rise. But less than 1 percent of transportation safety funds support infrastructure for walking and biking.

“While overall traffic deaths are down, the number of bicyclists dying on our roadways has increased by nine percent and pedestrian deaths have gone up by three percent recently,” said Coble in a statement. “This bipartisan legislation strives to reduce the number of bicyclists and pedestrians killed and injured on our roadways. It will help protect all users of our transportation system, while giving states flexibility to enact measures that make sense for them.”

Indeed, the legislation preserves state control by allowing states to set their own safety targets, with “the flexibility to choose the best methods to meet them,” according to the press release. Tellingly, the bill “encourages states to make their roadways safer without diverting funding from other safety needs,” according to the press release. There is no funding component in the legislation.

Read more…

No Comments

Lawmakers Push to Permanently Upgrade Transit’s Second-Class Tax Benefit

While the rest of the Capitol prepared for President Obama’s visit to lobby members of Congress on Syria military strikes, three lawmakers gathered under the hot sun with transit advocates to push for a more bread-and-butter issue: tax benefits for transit riders.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, sporting his dashing new goatee, illustrates "even-steven." Photo by Tanya Snyder.

For years, car commuters could claim up to $240 per month in tax-free driving expenses, while transit riders could claim only up to $125. The 2009 stimulus package brought transit commuter tax benefits up to the same level, but the parity provision kept expiring each year, and lawmakers had to scramble to reinstate it. Transit parity wasn’t reinstated for 2012, reverting the maximum monthly deduction back to $125.

A fiscal cliff deal at the beginning of this year not only restored parity for transit riders, it made the change retroactive, setting both transit and parking deductions at a maximum of $245 per month — and creating big headaches for employers. The retroactivity was necessary to restore parity, since otherwise it would have been considered a new change to the tax code. But it was probably more trouble than it was worth, creating a disincentive for employers to offer it.

“Employers have looked at this benefit and said, ‘It goes up, it goes down, you make changes every year; I don’t understand it. Why should I even give this to my employees?’” said David Judd of Edenred, one of the main companies that administers these benefits. “That’s a lousy attitude, given all the benefits of it. But it’s become confusing.”

That’s why Reps. Michael Grimm (R-NY), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and James McGovern (D-MA) gathered outside the Capitol today to push for their Commuter Parity Act (HR 2288). The bill would make the transit and parking benefits equal on a permanent basis — and would include bike-share as a form of transit.

Only two other Republicans have signed on to the bill: Reps. Peter King of Long Island and Robert Wittman of Northern Virginia. But McGovern said he doesn’t know anyone who’s opposed to this bill, on either side of the aisle. It’s good for small businesses, which pay lower payroll taxes when their employees have more tax-free income. And another sweetener is that the measure is revenue-neutral, costing the taxpayer nothing.

Read more…

No Comments

New Survey Shows Overwhelming Support for Federal Investment in Bike-Ped

At a press conference outside the Capitol this morning, where gusty winds nearly carried off the visual aids (if it weren’t for a few diligent supporters), bicycle advocates joined members of Congress to unveil the results of a new survey about federal funding for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. The telephone poll of 1,003 Americans, commissioned by the advocacy group America Bikes and conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates, was unequivocal: 83 percent said that federal bike-ped funding should increase, or at the very least be maintained.

“Even we were surprised,” said Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists. “From this day forward, we can say with total confidence that this issue has bipartisan support and is in the national interest.”

The poll is timely, coming the day after the first official meeting of the House-Senate conference committee charged with hammering out a compromise transportation bill before policy expires on June 30. The Senate bill includes some protections for bike-ped programs and devolves certain funding decisions to cities and local governments, while early drafts of the House bill eliminated those programs altogether.

Even more notable than the overwhelming support for current funding levels (and “increasing” had the edge over “maintaining,” 47 percent to 36) was the constant level of support across geographic, demographic, economic, and — perhaps most surprisingly — political boundaries. Among self-identified Republicans, 80 percent still favored maintaining or increasing bike-ped funding, compared to 88 percent of Democrats and 86 percent of Independents.

“Every way you cut the numbers, it makes it all the more perverse that a few members of Congress would be opposed to this,” Clarke told Streetsblog.

Mount Bikemore: Reps. Petri and Blumenauer, Sens. Cardin and Durbin. Photo: Ben Goldman

Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Congressmen Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Tom Petri (R-WI) were on hand to tout the survey’s results and defend the importance of bicycle and pedestrian programs.

“Some people fight crime, some people fight terrorism,” said Durbin, enumerating just a few reasons to enter public service. “The Tea Party came to fight bikes.” Durbin, who sits on the transportation bill conference committee, said that even his suburban and rural constituents are incredibly proud of their bicycle infrastructure and want to see continued federal support.

Read more…

No Comments

With a Big Crowd and Bipartisan Support, Bike Summit Gets Rolling

The League of American Bicyclists welcomed a record crowd to the 2012 National Bike Summit this morning. Over 800 attendees filled the basement of the Grand Hyatt Metro Center in Washington to hear remarks from federal lawmakers and officials about the state of bike advocacy in America — so large a crowd that president Andy Clarke said that next year the LAB’s sights are set on the much larger Walter E. Washington Convention Center, just two blocks away.

Secretary LaHood and Rep. Blumenauer, prior to addressing the National Bike Summit. Photo: Ben Goldman

Clarke set the stage for the speakers by pointing out that on the cover of the House transportation bill — “If you can bring yourself to look at it,” he said — there are four photos of different transportation modes, and not a single human being in sight. The advocates in the audience, Clarke said, will be tasked with putting people back in the picture.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, the Oregon Democrat whose zeal for bicycles is perhaps matched only by his zeal for bow ties, was first to speak. “My goal in working with you, these last 12 years in particular, is to make cycling a political movement,” Blumenauer said to a loud round of applause.

Blumenauer was optimistic about the demise of the House bill, which would have returned national transportation policy to the mid-20th century. “The House bill wasn’t just attacking cycling, it was backed by arguably the most powerful person on Capitol Hill — the speaker. You were a part of a coalition that stopped it dead in its tracks,” he said.

Highlights from the other speakers’ remarks are after the jump.

Read more…

No Comments

Blumenauer: Don’t Let American Streets Remain Unsafe Routes to School

Yesterday the House debated the GOP leadership’s oil drilling-with-a-side-of-highways bill, which may or may not survive the House floor.

Oregon's Earl Blumenauer has a knack for getting straight to the point. This was the image he used to illustrate his impassioned defense of the Safe Routes to School program yesterday morning.

A lot of folks are upset about this proposal, which would eliminate dedicated federal funding for transit, biking, and walking, open up some of the country’s environmental treasures to oil drilling and delay infrastructure insolvency for all of two years.

Leave it to Oregon’s Earl Blumenauer to really let ‘em have it. The Hill reports that Blumenauer delivered an impassioned speech accompanied by this sign that really hits home.

Some highlights below:

This is a wildly popular program, costing a fraction of a percent of the transportation budget, and it’s had a huge impact nationally on our children because it deals with real consequences for them.

Doesn’t it make sense to do something about the congestion, the injury, the death and the obesity?

So why are my Republican friends advancing a transportation bill attacking Safe Routes to School, stripping it out, making it an unsafe route to school? Well, it’s a fitting metaphor for perhaps the worst transportation bill in history.

Well said, sir.

No Comments

Even the Godfather of Rail~Volution Wouldn’t Raise the Gas Tax Right Now

At Rail~Volution yesterday, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) — also known as the godfather of the “rail~volution” — said even he wouldn’t raise the gas tax right now.

Earl Blumenauer takes the podium at Rail~Volution, while moderator Grace Crunican of BART, APTA President Bill Millar, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (not pictured) stand by. Photo by Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

“We should make some adjustments to a gas tax that hasn’t increased since 1993,” Blumenauer said. “Half the people think the gas tax goes up every year.”

He said he’d like to see it indexed to inflation:

In an ideal world, I would not raise the gas tax this year or next year. Come out of this recession, but put in place increases that are going to occur over the next 10 years; have that revenue stream. I would borrow against the revenue stream to take advantage of record low interest rates and a bidding climate like we’ve never seen, fund the president’s infrastructure bank to help move some of these forward, and work toward replacing the gas tax.

He reminded the audience that his state was the first to institute a gas tax, and now Oregon is working to get rid of it and replace it with a vehicle miles traveled fee.

Bill Millar, the outgoing president of the American Public Transit Association (“on Halloween, I turn into a pumpkin!”), said that before switching to a VMT fee, Congress needs to eliminate the federal guarantee, called “equity bonus,” that states will get back at least a certain percentage of what they pay in gas tax receipts. (The GAO recently found that every state actually gets back more than it puts in, thanks to infusions from the general fund, but that hasn’t stopped a lot of states from complaining that they don’t get their fair share.)

“States that encourage more travel get more money back [under the equity bonus system],” Millar said, “so we’ve got to break that cycle too, to make sure instead it’s an inverse relationship and states that give people more choice, more ways to travel, get more federal aid, not less federal aid.”

Read more…

No Comments

How Would Blumenauer’s New Commuter Benefit Proposal Work?

Source: Donald Shoup

If you drive to work, you can get a $230 monthly parking benefit, subsidized by the federal government and paid through your employer. If you take transit, right now you can get up to $230 per month, but the cap may revert to $120 when the current transit benefit law expires at the end of the year. And if you ride a bike? If your employer can even figure out how the bike benefit works, you get twenty bucks. Don’t spend that all in one place, kiddo. (Full disclosure: even Streetsblog hasn’t worked through the confusing bureaucracy enough to give its bike-commuting staff this benefit.)

Rep. Earl Blumenauer announces the introduction of the Commuter Relief Act outside a metro station. Photo: Meghan Cahill/League of American Bicyclists

The privileged position of cars in the employer-benefits paradigm could soon change. As Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) said today, “We need to take away subsidies that incentivize people to do just the opposite of what we ought to be doing.” As a congressman representing the second most congested part of the country, Moran said it was “stunning” that the tax code “is designed to subsidize congestion.”

Moran is a co-sponsor of Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s (D-OR) Commuter Relief Act, introduced today as a way to bring some equity to different transportation modes. Why should drivers get up to $230 a month to foster oil dependency, greenhouse gas emissions, and congestion when everyone else gets so much less?

Blumenauer’s proposal contains a menu of options that lawmakers can choose among – or they can choose all of them. They are:

  • Transit equity: sets the cap for all transportation benefits at $200 a month – parking and transit.
  • Self-employed extension of transportation benefits: gives self-employed workers transit benefits for their work travel.
  • Parking cash-out: requires employers who offer a parking benefit to also offer the option to take cash instead (reducing the incentive to drive).
  • Van-pool credit: creates a 10 percent tax credit for spending on vanpool services.
  • Bike benefit: raises the cap for the bike benefit from $20 to $40 and makes the procedures easier for employers. It also allows commuters to combine the bike benefit with transit or parking benefits, which they’re now not allowed to do.

Read more…

StreetFilms 4 Comments

Voices From the Rail~Volution

Streetfilms was out in Portland at this year’s Rail~Volution conference, putting our finger on the pulse of the sustainable transportation world. We spoke to a healthy dose of this year’s attendees, including advocates, bloggers, planners, transit industry reps and members of transportation agencies across the country. Among those we heard from was Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who helped push Rail~Volution — now in its twentieth year — to national prominence in 1995.  Well over a thousand folks attended the four-day event.

In addition, almost 500 people came to Portland’s famous Bagdad Theater to watch a program of short films on the big screen, eight of which were Streetfilms! Our fan base continues to grow, and an event like Rail~Volution brings home how much people look to Streetfilms as an inspiration and educational tool. It’s a great feeling.

No Comments

House Approves Transpo Spending Bill After Stripping Out $ for Livability

OberstarBlumenauer.jpgCongressmen Oberstar and Blumenauer, here speaking together at the 2007 Bike Summit, were on opposite sides of a dispute about increased funding for livability programs yesterday. Photo: Bike Portland
The House of Representatives passed its 2011 appropriations bill for Transportation and Housing and Urban Development yesterday, significantly increasing the amount going to both highways and transit while decreasing spending overall. A fight over $200 million in funds for the Obama Administration's new livability initiatives, however, showed that substantive changes in federal transportation policy will remain difficult to achieve until Congress tackles the long-term transportation reauthorization bill. 

First, a refresher on the difference between authorizations and appropriations. Roughly speaking, authorizations set policy while appropriations spend money based on those policies. Congress passes a transportation appropriations bill, like the House did yesterday, every year, while the transportation authorization is renewed less frequently. The most recent authorization, SAFETEA-LU, passed in 2005 and was set to expire in 2009. It has been temporarily extended since then while Congress dithers over a new bill. 

According to The Hill, the House's $67.4 billion appropriations bill reduces spending overall by $500 million from last year, and is $1.3 billion less than what the Obama administration requested. Because major priorities are mainly set in the federal transportation bill, the appropriations bill rarely includes large shifts in policy.

On the biggest ticket transportation items, spending increased in this appropriation. The $45.2 billion set for highways is $4.1 billion more than last year's bill provided for, according to The Hill, and $3.9 billion more than the administration asked for. Similarly the $11.3 billion in transit spending would be $500 million more than last year and $575 million more than requested.

One squabble that broke out pitted some of Congress's most prominent proponents of sustainable transportation against each other and ended with $200 million less for livability initiatives -- money that would have been used to help states coordinate transportation, land use, and conservation policy. That funding was proposed by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Portland Congressman Earl Blumenauer. Fighting fiercely against it were Congressmen Peter DeFazio and James Oberstar. As chronicled by the League of American Bicyclists' Andy Clarke, this wasn't a fight about substance -- all four have been champions for livability, overall -- but about process and turf.

Read more...