ASCE, MBTA host Congressman Michaud in Portland
By Maria Fuentes
Maine congressman Michael Michaud joined members of the Maine Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers and MBTA as featured speaker at a breakfast meeting October 17 at the Wyndham Hotel in South Portland. Michaud discussed “Congress and the Infrastructure.”
Michaud has served in Congress since 2003, and earned a coveted seat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T & I) Committee as a freshman. He recounted how he got on the committee. Knowing it was competitive, the new congressman called upon everybody he knew who had a relationship with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, including former U.S. Senator George Mitchell. With 75 members, the T & I committee is the largest in the House of Representatives, and his position has been “bumped up 20” slots since he got on, meaning he has more seniority.
Providing a primer to the group on how to get more engaged in the federal process with the goal of bringing more infrastructure projects to Maine, he said first and foremost, associations should get involved at the staff level and at the member level. “If you are already involved, keep it up. If not, then start getting involved … it is critical that individuals and businesses participate in the process.” He urged attendees to provide ideas to him and to his staff on how to increase funding for projects, or how to deliver them more efficiently. “I want to hear from people in the trenches. We don’t always know what works best at your level, and you need to help us come up with ideas.”
Addressing a question on congressional earmarks, Michaud said that despite some backlash on earmarks, there still will be high priority projects in the next transportation reauthorization bill, although perhaps not as many as before. “What happened last time is that the earmarks should have been ‘over the line’, or over and above the funding formula…in the House bill, earmarks were slated to be in addition to the regular funding, but that changed once it went to a committee of conference. I don’t believe that will happen this time.”
Although acutely aware that Maine needs more funding, he noted that in the last reauthorization, Maine received 30 percent more in funding than in the prior authorization bill.
Michaud said infrastructure should compete favorably with other federal priorities, noting that due to the economic climate, he believes infrastructure will “rate very high” in the next Congress. The briefing was held before the November 4 elections, and he touched on the impact Senator Obama would have if elected president, noting that during the campaign he had said he wanted a robust infrastructure package. “One billion in transportation infrastructure investment generates 47,000 jobs, and jobs are what Maine people need right now.”
“We should also look outside the Highway Trust Fund for investments,” he said. He reminded attendees that when he was in the Maine Senate and chaired the Appropriations Committee, he voted to take money from the General Fund to put into transportation projects. “Transportation investment benefits the General Fund, and I will do all I can to move General Fund dollars into transportation. I feel the same way on the federal level as I did on the state level.”
Regarding truck weights, as a means of saving money for infrastructure, Mike assured the crowd that he takes “every available opportunity to discuss the need to harmonize our truck weights and increase the allowable weight to 100,000 pounds on Maine’s interstate.” He joked that he is known for being stubborn, but he sees it as being persistent. “I keep pushing until I get it done, and truck weights will be no different.”
Michaud closed by acknowledging “we are living in very tough times” but said he remains optimistic. “Congress needs the expertise that people in this room and in your industries can bring. The more we hear from you, the better off we will be.”