Random header image from 8 images... Refresh for more!

Light rail expansion on the line

Houston Chronicle
by Stewart M. Powell and Chris Moran

WASHINGTON — Republican conservatives on Capitol Hill are threatening to chuck a federal mass transit program that promises at least $900 million for Houston Metro — a move that could dramatically curtail plans to expand light rail with the Southeast and North lines.

The House could vote as soon as mid-February on a plan by the conservative House Republican Study Committee to end the 35-year-old Federal Transit Administration’s “New Starts” program,” which pours $2 billion-a-year into urban transit projects such as Houston Metro’s bid to complete five light rail lines across the 579-square-mile city of 2.3 million.

Many Republican deficit-hawks see those costly projects as perfect targets for large savings.

Indeed, Houston Metro is caught in a political squeeze that suddenly endangers projects in dozens of metropolitan areas. The reason: Republicans elected from suburban and rural congressional districts are targeting federal mass transit programs that traditionally benefit Democratic metropolitan congressional districts on the West and East Coasts.

Officials’ assessments of the potential threat to Houston Metro appear to depend on their proximity to Capitol Hill. George Greanias, Metro’s CEO and president, sees talk of spending cuts as little more than speculation.

“No one has come to us and said we need to rethink what we’re doing,” says Greanias.

The Metro board has underscored its faith in continued federal investments with a recent decision to ramp up spending on rail expansion from $143 million to $345 million this year.

Even so, with Republican budget-cutters ascendant in Congress, uncertainty has prompted Metro officials to map out Plan B.

If cutbacks occur …

The Metro board has just hired the C2 Group, a lobbying firm adept at pitching mass transit to members of Congress. If Republican cutbacks prevail, Metro has plans to buy only 29 of 105 planned rail cars and to abandon the North and Southeast lines, completing only a half-mile stretch of the Southeast line linking the East End and Main Street lines.

“I certainly know the popularity of Metro in Houston and the importance of investing in transportation infrastructure,“ says Sen. John Cornyn, R-San Antonio, a member of the Senate Budget Committee. “But at the same time, we have to say there’s no money left. Everybody is going to have to suffer a little pain to get the country back on a sound financial footing.”

Houston Mayor Annise Parker said she remained confident the federal government would enable her to fulfill the commitment to Metro expansion made by predecessors.

“We believe that Congress would not act in bad faith for cities - not just Houston but cities across the country - that have expended funds with the expectation that those funds would be reimbursed,” Parker said.

Metro also was counting on another $740 million from the FTA program for future development of the University line.

“Cuts in federal transportation spending are on the way,” says Joshua Schank, director of transportation research for the Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank created by four former Senate majority leaders. “Historically there have been few partisan battles over transportation, but that’s changing - and not everyone realizes it.”

Proposed cuts

The conservative blitzkrieg apparently has caught locals by surprise. Not a single mayor or local official from across the country has called to lobby or complain, says Brian Straessle, spokesman for the conservative caucus that has mapped $60 billion in proposed cuts from mass transit, high speed rail and Amtrak as part of $2.5 trillion in proposed federal savings over the next decade.

“It’s certainly something in a Republican-driven Congress that could easily happen,” says former Harris County tax assessor Paul Bettencourt, a Metro critic.

Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which includes Republicans and Democrats, has already called for limiting spending on mass transit and highways to money raised by a 15-cent hike in federal per-gallon gasoline taxes as part of $4 trillion in savings over the next decade.

Lawmakers react

Houston-area Democrats on Capitol Hill are viewing the potential budget cuts with concern. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, a veteran insider first elected in 1992, sees the administration’s decision last month to invest $50 million in the North and Southeast corridor projects as giving momentum to Houston Metro.

“I would hope that my Republican colleagues would agree that light rail transit is a valuable investment in the Houston-area, and that stopping mid-project when millions in taxpayer dollars have already been invested does more harm than good,” Green said.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, has appealed to Obama in a personal letter, urging him to “carefully examine” funding for Houston’s light rail projects that transport employees of 26 Fortune 500 companies and 3,000 other Houston firms engaged in business in 200 countries worldwide. “These projects exemplify urban mobility, jobs, economic prosperity, energy independence and sustainable growth for our city,” Jackson Lee wrote the president.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chairman of the Republican Study Committee that includes 22 Texas Republicans, has insisted that “everything” has to be on the table to drive the spending down, saying “The only way to tackle our deficit is to cut excessive spending wherever we find it.”

Reporter Brad Olson contributed to this report.

To view original story http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/7405294.html

Return to Top

C2 Group Joins FTI Consulting
FTI Consulting - Mar 19, 2013

FTI Acquires C2 Group
PR Week - Mar 19, 2013

K Street Files: FTI Consulting Snaps Up C2 Group
Roll Call - Mar 19, 2013

Boutique Lobby Shop C2 Group Acquired by FTI Consulting
The Washington Post - Mar 19, 2013

Blue Dogs try fresh approach
Politico - Mar 22, 2012

Forest Service releases wish list for new firefighting planes
Denver Post - Feb 15, 2012

On the Move
CQ Weekly - Jan 16, 2012

Los Angeles Leads Full-Throttle Dash for U.S. Transit Cash
The New York Times - Jun 06, 2011

Highway Money Fight Shifts to States
Roll Call - May 24, 2011

Former Seneca exec is D.C. consultant
Buffalo Law Journal - Mar 03, 2011

Ex-Seneca Gaming exec adds D.C. work
Buffalo Business First - Mar 01, 2011

Barry Brandon and Galen Reser Join the Partners of C2 GROUP
Press Release - Feb 21, 2011

Transportation groups fear plans for infrastructure might dead-end
The Hill - Feb 16, 2011

Light rail expansion on the line
Houston Chronicle - Jan 31, 2011

Blue Dogs on K Street Say Their Clout Stays
Roll Call - Nov 09, 2010

K Streeters Launch Blue Dog Nonprofit
Roll Call Staff - Apr 13, 2010

Lobbyists Ice Members in Hockey Fundraiser
Roll Call Staff - Mar 11, 2010

Higgins:  Hill Tougher Than Hockey (VIDEO)
Politico Click - Mar 10, 2010

K Street Files: Ice Ice Baby
Roll Call Staff - Mar 03, 2010

C2 GROUP Makes Top 50 Lobbying Firms 2009
Influence 50 - Jan 29, 2010

Porsche, other car companies lobby to ease new fuel efficiency standards
The Hill - Dec 18, 2009

Big Builders Erect New Trade Association
Roll Call Staff - Dec 07, 2009

New Leadership at NFIB Makes a Return to Roots
Roll Call Staff - Nov 30, 2009

Firms Offer Tasty Morsels to Blue Dogs’ Top Aides
Roll Call Staff - Sep 16, 2009

Flexible Spending Account Providers Fighting to Protect Benefits
Roll Call Staff - Aug 03, 2009

K Street Files: Checking In
Roll Call Staff - Jul 28, 2009

Rockefeller’s Robertson Joins c2group, LLC
Press Release - Mar 27, 2009

K Street Discovers a New Star
Roll Call Staff - Mar 25, 2009

NRA Hits the Legislative Trail With Guns Blazing
Roll Call Staff - Mar 20, 2009

K Street Files: Powering Up
Roll Call Staff - Mar 18, 2009

Inaugural Parties, Lobbyists’ Havens
Roll Call Staff - Jan 07, 2009

Lobbyist for Big Builders Says Tax Carry-Back Not Dead
BuilderOnline.com - Jul 08, 2008

NAHB sees relief in tax credit
Politico - May 01, 2008

K Street Remains an Easy Street in Hard Times
CQ WEEKLY - Apr 21, 2008

Lobbying firm C2 Group acquires Bates Capitol Group
bizjournals.com - Jul 31, 2007

Press Release - Jul 30, 2007

C2 Gets a ‘B’
Roll Call Staff - Jul 30, 2007

Blue Dog Lobbyists: Now With Bite
Roll Call Staff - Jan 22, 2007

Corporate Road Warriors on the Move
Washington Post - Jun 19, 2006