Taking stock of the Presidential transition during the Thanksgiving break
November 24, 2016
While the Presidential Transition is still very much a work in progress, we wanted to take advantage of this holiday-related break in the action to give an update to train passengers about where things stand.
Trump Administration’s Transportation Transition Team
NARP staff has identified the following transportation leads in President-Elect Trump’s transition team:
NARP has established channels to communicate with the Trump Transition team, and is emphasizing the importance of strong investment in trains and transit -- for both rural and urban communities.
USDOT Secretary: We’ve also been working with mayors and allied organizations to identify train- and transit-friendly candidates for Secretary of the USDOT and FRA Administrator.
Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes is a leading contender for the job. Based on his strong history of support for transit and Transit Oriented Development in Utah, Mr. Hughes would be a welcome addition to the Trump Administration.
In the immediate aftermath of the election, there was speculation that former Federal Transit Administrator James Simpson was a candidate. With the departure of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as head of the transition team, Mr. Simpson has fallen out of the conversation.
There have also been rumors about Congressman John Mica (R-FL), who was just defeated in his congressional race, taking over as head of the DOT. Congressman Mica has, at times, had a contentious relationship with Amtrak, though he was a strong supporter of commuter rail in his district. However, there's been no statements coming from the Trump Camp to substantiate these rumors, so Mr. Mica seems to be a dark horse candidate.
Trump Administration’s Infrastructure Plan
Trump advisors have outlined $550 billion in infrastructure investment. Though the details of the plan are still hazy at this point, it appears it would be largely financed by public-private partnerships and the massive issuance of tax credit bonds. This is being sold by Trump’s team as revenue-neutral, which relies on an aggressive—and probably unrealistic—set of assumptions about how the Congressional Budget Office would dynamically-score the bill.
This program also preferences projects with high revenue-to-capital ratios, such as airport improvements and metro-area toll roads. Absent dedicated funding and/or direct grant programs, public transit, rail transit, intercity rail, and Projects of National & Regional Significance are unlikely to benefit from these financial incentives.
Democrats have signaled an openness to working with President-Elect Trump on infrastructure, as long as it provides real investment to much-needed projects. NARP will be working with our Democratic and Republican allies to ensure that local control, rural communities, and mass transit is represented in any infrastructure bill passed by the 115th Congress.
Fiscal Year 2017 Appropriations
When Congress returns next week, it will be laser-focused on December 9th for two reasons:
Congress will be eager to avoid a government shutdown, and GOP leadership will be looking to make it easier for the 115th Congress to roll back policy recently enacted by President Obama. As a result, we expect legislators to move quickly when they're back in session next week.
Republican leadership has settled on pursuing another short-term continuing resolution to fund the government -- at least through March 2017, and perhaps longer to give the Trump Administration more space to pursue its "first 100 days" agenda. The decision to rely on a CR budget extension overrules appropriators from both parties, who were keen to complete the individual appropriations bills passed in good order. It appears the chance to implement GOP control over the budget within a shorter timeframe was too tempting for Republican leadership.
While Amtrak should be in good shape (based on the budget anomaly NARP and its members advocated for in September), the CR would appear to preclude an opportunity to secure funding for the FAST Act rail and transit grant programs -- at least for the first half of FY2017. Zeroing out two years worth of funding from a five-year authorization bill would also throw the status of future appropriations into real doubt.
115th Congressional Leadership
House Committee Leadership in the 115th Congress
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Committee on Ways and Means
Committee on Appropriations
Senate Committee Leadership in the 115th Congress
Committee on Finance or the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs
Committee on Environment and Public Works
Committee on Appropriations
Rest assured, we will continue to keep you abreast of the latest developments, both in Washington, D.C. and throughout the nation. Thank you for your continued support of NARP's mission for fast, frequent rail service for all Americans. We couldn't do the work we do without your generous donations and advocacy.
Happy Thanksgiving, from our families to yours.
Jim Mathews | President & CEO
National Association of Railroad Passengers