Maine’s newest U.S. Senator talks transportation at PACTS annual meeting
U.S. Senator Angus King found time to talk about transportation in the midst of a busy June day. The occasion was the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System’s (PACTS) 2013 annual meeting June 6 at the University of Southern Maine’s Glickman Family Library in Portland, and Maine’s freshman senator was the featured speaker, working in the appearance between national TV appearances on morning and evening news talk shows.
PACTS Executive Director John Duncan welcomed the crowd of 90 state legislators, municipal officials and community transportation advocates to the event and then turned the podium over to Senator King
For his part, Senator King offered a freshman’s insights to “the world’s greatest deliberative body,” which of late has become polarized over issues including debt, gun control, immigration reform, internet privacy and health care.
He said the much-ballyhooed “lack of collegiality” is not as evident when he and his fellow senators are one-on-one.
“It’s bad, but it’s not as bad as you think,” said King. “There is still collegiality and there is still discussion.”
King also talked about the budget sequester that calls for $984 million in cuts to government programs over the next 10 years. He said that while the deficit is actually at the lowest level of GDP (gross domestic product) in 45 years, the focus on further cuts to government spending is “like invading Brazil after Pearl Harbor.”
With that thought, King transitioned to a discussion of transportation, noting that in this era of budget cutting and deep ideological divisions, “there is a lot at stake for you guys.”
And if they were unsure, the audience got a clear idea of the new senator’s positions on basic transportation policy, including his support for passing a full-length, five-year transportation authorization when the current two-year authorization (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century or MAP-21) expires next year.
“Not doing a five-year transportation authorization, as you know better than I, makes it really difficult to plan,” said King. “I want to get back to a five-year authorization.”
He also offered up a new definition of “deficit” – one that included deferred repair and maintenance on important public infrastructure, including “broken bridges and failing sewer systems . . . because not fixing things is debt,” said King.
“Eventually it is going to have to be paid for by someone and, if we don’t, it will be our children.” Still, King confessed that with other issues consuming debate time on the Senate and House floors and the talk show airwaves, “there’s not a lot of interest in this in Washington.”
He said the only way to redirect Congressional attention to the bread-and-butter issue of transportation infrastructure is for citizens to communicate with Congressional leaders and build a call for change and increased funding
“You are preaching to the choir with me and Susan Collins, but we are responsive to our constituents and so are our colleagues across the country.”
And before veering off topic to answer questions about the filibuster rules, climate change and the National Security Administration, King offered this promise of support: “Infrastructure is something I want to do something about.”
The meeting also offered an opportunity for some PACTS housekeeping and self-congratulation, offered up by Duncan and Policy Committee Chair David Marshall.
“It’s been a pretty big year,” said Duncan. He and Marshall talked of the organization’s transition from a metropolitan planning organization (MPO) to a transportation management association (TMA), a federal designation that among other things gives local governments and constituents a greater role in the planning process for federal transportation dollars. The transition has brought renewed alliances with area businesses including L.L. Bean and IDEXX to address transportation issues including congestion and access, in addition to working toward consolidation of key functions of the region’s transit organizations, as a way to reduce costs and improve service and efficiency.
FMI: PACTS is the transportation management association (TMA) for the Greater Portland region and was established to improve the coordination of transportation planning and investment decisions by state, municipal and public transportation organizations. To learn more, visit www. pactsplan.org.