Watson One of Four Lawmakers Who Show Up To Pitch Local Projects

Members of the House had an open invitation today from the panel in charge
of annual funding for transportation and housing: Any lawmaker could
come and personally make the case for why their local bridge, road, or
transit project should get a share of the federal money.

You might expect, given transit’s historically difficult path to securing federal support, that urban-minded members of Congress would show up in droves. But you’d be wrong.

olver.jpgRep. John Olver (D-MA) (Photo: Washington Post)

Just
four lawmakers showed up to make their pitch to House appropriators:
Henry Cuellar (D-TX), who represents several counties along the
U.S.-Mexico border; John Boozman (R-AR), whose district includes most
of eastern Arkansas; Betsy Markey (D-CO), who hails from the Fort
Collins area; and Diane Watson (D-CA) of Los Angeles.

Rep.
John Olver (D-MA), the chairman of the transportation and housing panel
on the House Appropriations Committee — also known as the controllers
of the federal purse — was unfazed by the low turnout, although his
team expects to field thousands of requests for just a few open funding
slots.

"There are many different ways you can make your
case in this business," Olver said. He added that colleagues routinely
approach him on the floor of the House (where the press is not
permitted) to explain and re-prioritize their project requests.

Olver’s
panel runs on a separate track from the House Transportation and
Infrastructure Committee, which authorizes projects on a six-year cycle
while at least partly funding many of them. Appropriators such as Olver
work with a portion of the total annual budget, which will total $3.55
trillion for the fiscal year that starts in October.

Public
disclosure of earmarks is a central element of the Democrats’ agenda
this year. Still, government watchdog groups such as the Sunlight
Foundation have had a devil of a time trying to create a centralized database of Congress’ project requests that could bring local activists into the process.

Olver
said the heightened focus on earmark transparency has resulted in an
unexpected consequence: lawmakers who were once more selective are
"assuming they must make requests for everything that someone in their
district has come forward [to argue] for."

So will transit
advocates face more receptive members of Congress, or will the outsized
influence of the highway lobby swamp lawmakers’ offices with road
requests?

If today’s quartet
of requests is any guide, the outlook is mixed. Markey, of Colorado,
asked for help with four local bridges and traffic control on one road,
while Watson sought help repairing the sidewalk that houses the Hollywood Walk of Fame
and Boozman focused on the I-49 road-building project in his state.
Cuellar fared the best of the four, calling for studies of high-speed
rail in the Houston and Laredo areas as well as a new bus terminal for
Roma, Texas, that connects the town to Monterrey, Mexico.

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