Ray LaHood Staying on as Transportation Secretary – For Now

Jan 22nd, 2013 | Posted by

The uncertainty appears to be over – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is staying on, at least for the time being:

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he will stay on for an indefinite period in President Barack Obama’s second term….

LaHood declined to say whether he would stay or go several times at public appearances last week. He said at an inauguration party in Washington last night he will be “sticking around for a while,” without specifying.

So that’s not quite as definitive a statement as people might like. Will he be staying through the whole second term, or is he planning to step down at some point before 2017? We don’t know, but for the time being, LaHood is going to be sticking around.

And that’s good news. Ray LaHood has been one of the best Transportation Secretaries ever, and one of the brightest stars of the Obama Administration. Although many transit advocates were wary of a moderate Republican from Peoria, Illinois, he has turned out to be a warrior for an urban-friendly transit agenda that emphasizes rails, bikes, and maintaining our existing infrastructure over building new highways. LaHood has been particularly strong on high speed rail, going to bat for California’s project in a hostile Congress and fighting back against Midwestern Republican governors who wanted to kill their high speed rail projects yet keep the federal funding and use it for freeways.

While I would expect that a successor to LaHood would maintain that agenda, especially if it were the long-rumored Antonio Villaraigosa, we do know what we’re getting with LaHood and we know it will be good. So I welcome today’s news that LaHood is staying on, even if it doesn’t exactly answer the question of when, if at all, he’ll leave the Obama Administration.

On a related note, the president mentioned in his second inaugural address yesterday that climate change was an issue he wants to tackle in his second term. That’s good news for high speed rail, as reducing transportation emissions is an essential part of cutting overall carbon emissions and addressing climate change.

  1. Neil Shea
    Jan 22nd, 2013 at 12:53

    Obama also mentioned in his inaugural “Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce”

    YESONHSR Reply:

    He has ‘toned” the High speed rail call down alot…Not that I think he has different thoughts…its an easy target for the Repubs to attack. Lahood is great supporter of HSR..he has fired back at the loud mouths complaining about HRS projects

    Nathanael Reply:

    Due to long lead times (paperwork) a bunch of the rail projects which were federally approved back in ’09 are only just starting to break ground. It probably doesn’t make sense to campaign *too* hard for more until more of them are open and people can see the benefits. At least the Brunswick and Norfolk Amtrak extensions opened, but that only gets you support in Maine and tidewater Virginia…

    Eric Reply:

    Virginia at least is a swing state…

  2. Reality Check
    Jan 22nd, 2013 at 15:36

    Dan Walters: Will drivers pay more for California highways?

    California has the nation’s third-highest fuel tax, more than 50 cents a gallon, but is among the lowest states in having motorists and other transportation users pay for their services through fees and taxes.

    In fact, the [Tax Foundation report] calculated, California’s users pay for less than a third of building and maintaining streets, roads, highways and transit services.

    The rest of the transportation burden is being borne by diversions of other revenue, such as those local sales taxes paid by everyone who buys retail goods, the state’s general fund that’s been tapped to service transportation bonds, city and county property taxes, federal grants and so forth.


    It’s high time that real transportation needs – not just the fanciful bullet train – move to the front of the political agenda again.

    Nothing, really, is more important to the state’s economic and social future.

    Reedman Reply:

    Is he arguing that the users of “transit services” like ferries, buses, and rail should pay for their travel at the farebox instead of receiving subsidies from the motoring public?

    StevieB Reply:

    Dan Walters is arguing for increased highway construction. He mentions highway construction three times in the first four sentences.

    During Jerry Brown’s first governorship three-plus decades ago, no political issue burned more hotly than transportation, particularly a marked slowdown in highway construction…

    However, no successor to Brown significantly increased highway construction.

    Out of sheer frustration, local governments began asking their voters for sales tax hikes to finance highway construction.

    In the forth sentence he attacks Browns highway construction policy.

    Critics accused Brown and his transportation director, Adriana Gianturco, of an anti-highway bias.

    joe Reply:

    He’s a dinosaur. “anti-highway bias.” ? We can’t afford to maintain what we have now.

    I don’t think pitting more freeways against alternative transportation is a winning argument in this state.

    Auto Mags just reported the top selling car in CA is the Prius. We also buy fewer trucks proportionally than the rest of the US.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    This appeared at Nine Shift recently; William Draves has his comments (in response to an inquiry) on the reactions by “the establishment” to the recognition that highway finance, and perhaps roads, may be unsustainable.


    What might be your take on that?

    Jonathan Reply:

    No, I think he’s arguing that Californians should pay higher per-vehicle fees and taxes.

    if one really wanted a free-market “user pays” approach, CA should crank up its liquid-hydrocarbon fuel tax.
    CNG, electric, and high-efficiency vehicles would pay less than their “share”, but that’s offset by lower pollution.

    Oh, and charge all heavy vehicles (diesel trucks) by miles-driven in California, and axle load. ;) ;)

    Peter Reply:

    Wow, are even grumpy/angry old white men (jeez Walters, learn to smile) realizing Californians need to pay more taxes in order to pay for things that they want?

    Jonathan Reply:

    Nah, he’s a Baby-Boomer. He’s probably saying the _rest_ of us Californians should pay more taxes, in order to pay for the highways that _he_ wants ;)

    synonymouse Reply:

    Just as you want the rest of us Californians to pay $20bil or so for the DeTour because Villa and Antonovich want it. Same deal.

    Jonathan Reply:

    No, I don’t. Don’t put words in my mouth; it’s offensive.

    And it’s not the same deal at all. One is about raising revenue to maintain infrastructure whic his _already built_ and in use, in heavy use.

    synonymouse Reply:

    You don’t want the DeTour, which sounds pretty close to “the highways that _he_ wants ;”?

    Or, put it another way, you think the DeTour is going to maintain itself? That there won’t be operating losses that have to be subsidized, just the way highways are subsidized. Except you don’t have to pay any of Pelosi’s union chauffeurs to use the highway.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    This is a very nuanced argument by Mr. Walters. In so many words, he’s calling out Democrats from Brown on down for not wanting to reinstate the higher vehicle license fee from the period before Pete Wilson. The reason for this is because currently, unlike many other states, the VLF does not generate enough revenue to support a meaningful amount of transportation infrastructure costs aside from the DMV’s operating budget.

    Brown and other Dems aren’t going there because politically, they know the “car tax” was a lightning rod used by Republicans to unseat Gray Davis when the former reinstated the higher rate during the 2002 budget crisis.

    And even if they did, the remainder of the the VLF had been going to local governments as state-shared revenue which may or may not have been used for transportation.

    If this all seems supremely wacky, it’s because the VLF was first proposed in the 1930s to replace local governments levying property taxes on vehicles at varying rates. Under the Young Administration (late 20’s) California already had a system in place to use fuel taxes to underwrite to cost of state transportation needs. But after passage of the Bradley-Burns Act in 1957, local governments undercut this system by using General Fund dollars for road construction as a way to generate more revenue for their respective General Funds. (By annexing land and adding more taxpayers.) This arrangement effectively failed at the end of the Reagan Administration when population growth leveled off….hence the reason that transportation policy was so contentious when Reagan’s successor…Jerry Brown…took office in the late 70’s….

    joe Reply:

    Wow. That’s pretty nuanced. Who is the audience?

    Recall House Republicans demanded Obama propose spending cuts to meet their spending reduction targets. They wanted him to take the heat for cuts. He refused and The House Leadership capitulated.

    Now maybe the CA Conservatives plan is similar. They’demand The Supermajority Dems stop neglecting freeways and ALSO find ways to pay for car centric infrastructure fixes. Surely the GOP Reps will refuse to co-sponsor or endorse those new revenues and then run against them.

  3. synonymouse
    Jan 23rd, 2013 at 10:34

    Adjusting to the Moonbeam SuperMajority:


    Michael Reply:

    And Amazon, who was threatening to leave the state because the state demanded that they charge sales taxes, just like other retailers, is in the process of building three distribution centers in California. +10,000 jobs.


    Jerry will be bashed mercilessly because he just proved that people will vote to increase their taxes if the case is made clearly. Even the Republicans see that maybe they can work with him.


    If this spread across the US, Fox would look like a laughing stock…

    synonymouse Reply:

    Sorry, other states are talking about eliminating income taxes.

    There are consequences to high taxes occasioned by wasteful spending. Poster boy for the latter is TehaVegaSkyRail, which now will be foisted on Amtrak. Eventually the same states that want to abolish incomes taxes, etc., will rebel at the Amtrak deficit. Too bad, Amtrak ought to survive, but incompetence, stupidity, featherbedding are probably going to do it in over time.

    Where’s the NdeM?

    Back in the Saddle Reply:

    The only people pushing to eliminate income taxes are far right wing nuts. They don’t believe in government. They want to drown it in the bathtub. So no money for education and job training, infrastructure (roads, airports, rail, sewage treatment facilities etc.) business recruitment to their communities and and God-forbid, a population that’s healthy enough to work. They despise anyone who spends tax money. So its not wasteful spending that’s the issue just that they don’t want to spend money period.

    Nathanael Reply:

    I have never seen “high taxes occasioned by wasteful spending” in my lifetime. It is a myth, a chimera, the fever dreams of right-wing nuts.

    I have seen “high borrowing occasioned by wasteful spending” very, very frequently.

    Nathanael Reply:

    States with no income tax:
    Alaska — state-owned passenger railroad
    Florida — two state-owned passenger railroads
    Nevada — very little passenger rail
    South Dakota — no passenger rail
    Texas — urban rail, no state-funded passenger rail
    Washington — substantial state support for Amtrak
    Wyoming — no passenger rail

    There’s no correlation between income taxes and support for state-funded passenger rail; none at all.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    Syn: Under Priia legislation routes under 750 miles have to be funded by the state, Amtrak operated or not.

    synonymouse Reply:

    In relation to the other changes this administration plans changing the legislation cited above is picayune to say the least. They’d like to kill at least one constitutional amendment.

    No problem for our congressional cabal plus a concurrent administration. A much greater political problem would be selling an on-going large operating deficit for the Roundabout at the State level. There would be much pressure for privatization amid much reference to promises of private participation in Prop 1A. Privatization would lead to liquidating the line and an enormous embarrassment for the moondogglers.

    synonymouse Reply:

    I mean if you federalize the project there goes Prop 1A. Who is going to stop them with the SuperMajority, the congressional cabal and a tame judiciary? Nobody.

    joe Reply:

    Jerry Brown, that’s who.
    The CA GOP is fawning over him.

    Also, the article speculates that LaHood’s tenure is tied to Brown. If Brown runs for reelection, Villaraigosa will wait him out another term and probably replace LaHood in DC. If Brown doesn’t, LaHood Stays and Villaraigosa plans a run for the Gov mansion.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Of course, they should love him – he’s a shill for developers.

    The only thing green about Jerry is the colour of money.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Jerry is fasttracking the Amtrakking of the CHSRA.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    …..which is why….despite synonymouse’s peyote-fueled delusions….CAHSRA had no choice but to adopt the current alignment and overlay existing Amtrak California service as opposed to paralleling I-5. It’s no coincidence that 750 miles corresponds to the maximum feasible distance for point-to-point HSR service…the goal is to phase out state sponsored routes that require subsidizes with HSR that can break even….

    Nathanael Reply:

    Syn, Fox News is a propaganda outfit, not a news operation. Don’t read it except for oppo research. They lie outright. The parent corporation even won a libel lawsuit by claiming that it had the right to lie.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Of course Fox is a propaganda outfit, for the GOP, just as the NY Times is for the Democratic Party. The San Francisco Chron is pretty much straight party line.

    And everything emanating from PB-CHSRA GHQ is hopelessly spun. That’s just the way it is.

    J Baloun Reply:

    I recall hearing something about…Jerry Brown…and a balanced budget…

    synonymouse Reply:

    Precisely, high taxes which underwrite wasteful spending and hypothetically balance budgets do have consequences. Those who are taxed respond to the loss of income.

  4. JBaloun
    Jan 23rd, 2013 at 18:52

    The California HSR line connects the dots.


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