From cities like Seattle, which already have regional rail systems in place, to Las Vegas, the city of sin, where light rail systems have been proposed and are undergoing construction, it is undisputed that trains are the future of transportation in urban neighborhoods. With this in mind, will members of congress fight for this much sought after form of city transit, or will they be blinded by partisanship and legislative technicalities?
Early on, HR1195 was deemed a bill of “technical corrections” which is a classification reserved for legislation that aspires to fix errors and faulty language in previously enacted laws. This proposed altering of the 2005 highway law would, among other things, apportion $45 million to a rail project in Las Vegas, an initiative drawing considerable controversy from GOP lawmakers.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) stands in firm opposition of this proposition claiming it is a new earmark and abuses the classification of a “technical correction” bill. The allocated funds would be used to expand the rail project in Nevada, originally planned to span between Las Vegas and the city of Prim, to Anaheim, California. DeMint is expected to submit an amendment scrapping this portion of the bill.
According to an April 15 Congressional Quarterly report, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) rebuked DeMint skepticism by arguing that the rail project had always planned to extend to California, her home state, and that the proposed $45 million is only for the shorter segment between Las Vegas and Prim. “We have the facts cold,” she said. “It’s not a new project whatsoever.”
Beyond the aforementioned rail construction, 400 other projects will be funded by this bill, which Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL) characterizes as a mini-stimulus package. In the same CQ report mentioned above, Durbin spoke to the potential economic boon this bill may bring. “A billion dollars can be spent on good paying jobs right here in America,” Durbin said. “We want to make certain these paychecks start rolling and turn around this threat of a recession.”
Durbin, representing Illinois in the Senate has long been an advocate for improved urban transit, and most notably, made a floor statement in favor of “rail expansion and service improvements” in 2007.
Originally a bipartisan measure, further criticism from the White House has caused this bill to quickly deteriorate to a party feud. The Office of Management and Budget remarked that if passed this measure “would not be a technical corrections bill, but would instead make substantial and harmful changes to current law.”
With plans from Republican lawmakers to filibuster the allotted 30 hours of debate on this measure, a quick and smooth approval process for Democrats seems out of the question.
This politically motivated bickering could seriously hamper the progress of transit projects around the country, leaving many to ask if our cities transit programs indeed need more than just “technical corrections.”
The New Argument