Obama’s Budget Plan and HSR
President Barack Obama has released the basic outline of his FY 2010 budget plan (which would actually go into effect on October 1, 2009) and it includes $5 billion for HSR over 5 years – or, $1 billion a year. Obviously that’s not going to be enough to build any HSR projects around the country, but would maybe possibly provide a few drops in the bucket. As Yonah at the Transport Politic notes, the proposal “doesn’t appear to mark sea change in vision for U.S. mobility” but is subject to change in Congress.
The budget fight may well resemble the stimulus battle in some key respects, as moderate Democrats and the small handful of sort-of-moderate Republicans could unite to try and pare back some of the more ambitious moves Obama is proposing, including the attack on 30 years of neoliberal economic policy signaled by Obama’s plans to start going after wealth through taxation.
A key issue is whether the budget requires 50 votes or 60 votes to pass – the absurd and undemocratic filibuster rule was what caused the weakening of the stimulus plan (despite the $8 billion for HSR), and if the budget is subject to the same 60 vote requirement, then the end product is likely to be significantly weaker than what Obama is proposing here.
Ultimately the real transportation policy battle may come when the transportation bill comes up for reauthorization later this year. A Congressional commission is calling for a higher gas tax and ultimately a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax, and while the Obama Administration backed off Ray LaHood’s suggestions along those lines earlier this week, I suspect that may have been because they weren’t yet ready to go there. We will see what happens later in the year.
Finally, it’s great to have seen a lot of pushback against Republican HSR lies this week. It helped that Bobby Jindal made himself look ridiculous with his “Disneyland ride” comments – what he’s actually wound up doing is inoculating HSR against that kind of criticism by implying HSR deniers think like Jindal does. Sort of a Sarah Palin “I can see Russia from my house!” moment. With Obama’s approval ratings through the roof, and his administration finally showing signs of wanting to chart a truly new course in American politics, that creates the conditions to both grow and consolidate public support for high speed rail. There’s a lot of opportunity here, but we’ll have to push it through.
Note: I usually don’t mind thread drift in the comments, but for now I’d ask folks who want to discuss the Peninsula HSR plan to keep it in yesterday’s post for the time being, until I post again on the topic, which will likely be this weekend.