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Executive Director's Report



Silicon Valley Forum
Mountain View, May 29

I joined Commissioner Baker in a panel discussion on transportation and housing issues at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s annual Regional Economic Forum.

TRB Executive Committee Meeting
Washington DC, June 11-12

I attended the biennial meeting of the executive committee for the Transportation Research Board. While in the nation’s capital, I briefed Senator Feinstein about the bolt troubles on the new east span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

State Budget Deal
Sacramento, June 16

Governor Brown and state legislative leaders reached agreement on a $115 billion General Fund budget for FY 2015-16 that differed little from the “May Revise” proposal that the governor presented a few weeks ago. Nonetheless, the governor made news by calling the Legislature into special session on two topics that weren’t part of the budget agreement: shoring up the state’s Medi-Cal program and fixing California’s potholed streets and highways. The latter special session obviously is music to MTC’s ears, and represents an opportunity (in the governor’s words) to “enact permanent and sustainable funding to maintain and repair the state’s transportation and critical infrastructure.” A copy of the governor’s proclamation calling the transportation special session can be found here.

House Ways and Means Committee Hearing
Washington DC, June 17

After years of avoiding the issue, the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives finally held a hearing on the cash-strapped Highway Trust Fund (HTF) and ways to restore the fund to fiscal health. Unfortunately, Chairman Paul Ryan led off the hearing with an opening statement that shut the door on the most obvious solution to the problem:

“So I want to make it clear: I’m against raising the gas tax. There’s not much happening in this economy to help it grow, but lower gas prices is one of them. Working families have been struggling for years to get by. They’ve looked high and low for good-paying jobs. Their paychecks haven’t grown much at all. And now they’re finally catching a break. It would be downright unfair to take that away from them. So we are not raising gas taxes – plain and simple.”

In other words, the political logic is as follows. When gas prices are high, Congress can’t raise the gas tax because it would punish motorists already suffering from high prices. And when gas prices are low, Congress can’t raise the gas tax because it would mean taking away savings from those same long-suffering motorists. Thus, the best time to raise gas taxes is . . . never! Chairman Ryan’s statement can be found at this link.

The Senate Finance Committee held a similar hearing the following day. Chairman Orrin Hatch was just as pessimistic about finding a long-term funding solution for the HTF.

Cities’ Climate Action Dialogue
San Francisco, June 18

At the invitation of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, I participated in a panel discussion on urban sustainability issues that coincided with the opening of the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual meeting in the City by the Bay.

SGC Cap & Trade Recommendations
Sacramento, June 22

The Strategic Growth Council (SGC) staff have released their recommendations for the first round of Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program funding. I am pleased to report that 11 Bay Area projects are proposed for $47 million in funding, which is 39% of total funding statewide. Only two MTC-recommended projects were not funded. These staff recommendations will be considered for approval at the SGC meeting on June 30th.

Senate Leaders Release Highway Bill
Washington, DC, June 23

The bi-partisan leadership of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee have released a six-year reauthorization of the Federal-Aid highway program that would boost funding by about 2% per year over current levels. Of course, the hard work of finding all that extra money belongs to the Senate Finance Committee. There are also several policy changes in the EPW bill, the most notable of which is the creation of a new federal freight program funded at up to $2.5 billion per year. Senate EPW Committee mark-up of the bill is scheduled for today.

Upcoming Events

July 17 — ACTC Retreat, Oakland