If there's one thing on which I agree with I Rush Limbaugh, it's the question he posed to Jay Leno on Thursday night. What happened to the promised post-presidential election bipartisanship? Today's Congress is about as contentious as two dogs fighting in the backyard over the last ham bone. Meanwhile, we the citizens look on from the other side of the fence saddled with the hunger pangs of growing unemployment and general discontent of the state of things.
With health care and climate change plus the war in Afghanistan and the possibility of nuclear weapon capability from Iran, the Obama administration's plate is most definitely full. Add to it several appropriations bills in Congress that keep the federal government and state and local projects and programs, um, moving along. Amid all of this, the Senate last week passed its version of the fiscal year 2010 transportation and housing appropriations bill.
The bill has been controversial enough by cutting off ACORN funding and allowing Amtrak passengers to carry guns in the checked baggage, but there's some pretty scary language contained within for private school bus operators, as the National School Transportation Association pointed out this week. A provision says that no funds can be used to enforce FTA charter regulations that prohibit public transit from illegally competing for contracts. It was an agreement that FTA, transit and a coalition of private transportation providers reached a few years ago, but Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) appears to be bent on changing that, though negotiations continue.
Seattle Metro is thought to have gotten involved over a dispute about charter service to Seattle Mariners' baseball games. But, coincidentally, nearby Vancouver hosts the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. There's speculation on Capitol Hill that this is the real impetus for involving Sen. Murray, as local transit providers obviously have a lot to gain (or lose). Essentially, transit could gain exclusive rights to provide transportation to tourists to the tune of millions of dollars of revenue, added to the money it already receives from the Feds and not to mention the influx of stimulus money this year.
The main concern here for NSTA, however, is not Seattle transit getting richer on the Olympics but the precedent that such a provision might set nationwide. It will be interesting to see the final version.