Ken Orski, Washington,
D.C., transportation consultant
An Interview with
The Civic Caucus
8301 Creekside Circle #920, Bloomington, MN 55437
Notes of the
(All by phone) Verne Johnson (chair), Dave Broden, Janis Clay, Pat Davies,
Paul Gilje, Sallie Kemper, Dan Loritz, Tim McDonald and Jim Olson
Summary of discussion
- Consultant Ken Orski describes a new Congressional agreement on roads
and transit funding for 2013 and 2014, including continued support for
light rail transit (LRT)
but without support for high speed bullet trains. He describes an unusual
funding approach that has the effect of cutting back on private pension
obligations. He sees major opposition to increases in the federal gasoline
tax but suggests more public-private transportation projects. He also sees
greater support for imposing tolls on new (but not existing) lanes.
Introduction of intierviewee
- Ken Orski is a public policy consultant and publisher of Innovation
Briefs, a transportation newsletter now in its 23rd year of
has worked professionally in the field of transportation for over 30
years. He served as associate administrator of the Urban Mass
Transportation Administration under President Nixon and President Ford
(1974-78), and prior to that was a senior officer in the United States
foreign service with assignments to the European Communities in Brussels
and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in
Paris, where he directed a program of inter-governmental cooperation in
transportation. From 1978 to 1981 he served as vice president of the
German Marshall Fund of the
States, a private foundation supporting transatlantic cooperation on
issues of common concern to industrialized nations. Orski is a magna
cum laude graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School.
- The Civic Caucus, seeking to gain an understanding about what should be
regarding transportation, invited Mr. Orski to provide his perspective on
what is happening nationally at the local and federal levels.
this week Congressional House and Senate conferees have reached agreement
on a two-year transportation bill, with final action by both bodies likely
today, June 29. (The bill passed on June 29 and was signed by the
President on July 5.) Passage was unexpected by many of those in the
transportation policy community, Orski said. The bill runs through FY
2014, a year longer than anticipated. Many observers were concerned about
what Congress might be faced with if the bill was extended only one year,
coming back up after the election in such short order. There would have
been very little money left in the highway trust fund by that point.
Compromise a surprise
extent by which the House and Senate compromised was a surprise. For
example, the House dropped its insistence on a new north-south oil
pipeline. The Senate dropped language that would have added public money
for Amtrak and high speed rail.
compromise may have been pressured by politics of job creation, Orski
said. Even though the bill isn't a major source of new jobs, lawmakers did
not want to be seen as voting against a "jobs bill."
National financing for light rail transit (LRT) level remains steady
House-Senate agreement includes $1.9 billion in each of the fiscal years
2013 and 2014 for new
starts and extensions, which is approximately the same amount as available
in 2011 and 2012. Cost sharing remains the same as in the past: 80
percent federal and 20 percent state-local.
National financing high speed bullet trains not included
agreement does not include federal funds for high speed rail, such as
between Chicago and the Twin Cities or between Los Angeles and San
Francisco. A questioner asked about high speed rail serving as a way to
reduce congestion in high traffic air corridors. Orski said that the
Northeast Corridor (Boston to Washington) is about the only place where
air congestion is so severe that the expense of high speed inter-city rail
might be considered.
tolls to finance freeways is supported mildly
amendments that were in the Senate bill, called the Bingaman amendments,
were not included. They would have penalized certain aspects of
public-private toll concessions. The compromise bill allows blanket
authority to toll new capacity on the Interstates so long as current
non-high-occupancy-vehicle, toll-free lane capacity is not reduced. It was
noted that in a January 2012 newsletter Orski had predicted a substantial
increase in support for tolling this year.
increase in the federal gasoline tax
agreement leaves per-gallon federal fuel taxes at the same level since
1988. 18.4 cents for gasoline, and 24.4 cents for diesel. Despite needs
for transportation financing, there is strong opposition in Congress to
increasing fuel taxes, Orski said. About $18.8 billion of the agreement
will be paid for by the general fund. Some House Republicanswould have
liked to reduce the federal role in financing transportation but the final
bill maintains current spending levels.
Finance transportation by allowing pension deficits to increase?
and Senate conferees agreed to an unusual--and doubtlessly
controversial--approach to "finance" that portion of the agreement that
relies on general funds. For every dollar of general funds assigned to
transportation, the agreement provides for an "offset", i.e. a provision
that adds tax revenue The principal offset is a reduction in the amount
that private employers must set aside for pensions for employees. Since
pension contributions by employers are tax-deductible, reducing them will
increase employers' taxable income and hence allow the government to
collect more taxes.
Explore potential of public-private partnerships
about new revenue sources for transportation that are being tried in
states, Orski said he sees potential in new arrangements where the private
sector might share ownership and operation of transportation facilities
(highways and rail transit) with the public sector. In Denver, for
example, he said, private funds are being used to help build the LRT
Transportation stakeholders often inflate estimates of transportation
sometimes hear transportation advocates calling for $2 trillion to $3
trillion in new construction over the next five years, Orski said. Most
such estimates are dismissed in Congress as self-serving. No acceptable
definition of a national transportation need has been developed. The needs
vary from state to state When he travels around the nation, Orski said he
is impressed with the quality of the roads in most states.
restrictions present on use of federal funds for operating expenses
compromise bill deleted a provision in the Senate version of the bill that
would have allowed a certain percentage of federal funds to be used to
cover operating deficits in transit systems (the difference between total
operating expense and that which is covered by the fare box.)
Cities a model for transportation planning
said he is not close enough to state level to judge what states have
especially effective planning, but said the Twin Cities stands out, in
part for the historical role played by the Metropolitan Council in
planning. "The fact that you have this continual dialogue about
transportation at the regional level bodes well," he said.
provisions of transportation agreement
Consolidates the number of highway programs by two-thirds; eliminates all
earmarks (the previous bill contained over 6,300 earmarks)
Provides a total of $101B in Highway Trust Fund (HTF) obligation
authority, plus $4.2B in general funds for transit.
Provides for supplementing the HTF with $18.8B in general funds ($6.2B
in FY 2013, $12.6B in FY 2014) and with $2.4B from the Leaky Underground
Storage Tank Trust Fund.
Provides for accelerating project delivery by setting a 4-year deadline
for slow-moving projects and exempting certain projects from environmental
Renames the "Transportation Enhancement" program as the "Transportation
Alternatives " program. Restricts funding eligibility of certain projects
(such as museums). Eliminates "Recreational Trails,"
"Safe-Routes-to-School" and "Complete Streets" as stand-alone programs.
Combines the latter into the Alternatives program and funds it with a
set-aside amounting to 2 percent of total federal highway program.
Strikes out Senate provision that would require automakers to equip cars
with "Event Data Recorders" that record and store the vehicle's operation
immediately before and after an accident. House conferees expressed
concern that this would constitute an invasion of motorists' privacy
see any major transportation programs that will disappear as a result of
the bill," Orski said in closing. Federal support for high speed rail is
gone. But beyond that I think the federal presence is being maintained,
with some reform in the transportation program, to the better."
chair thanked Orski for the visit today.