Seat 2B By Joe Brancatelli
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What the Wild Election Means for Road Warriors
November 10, 2016 -- Bet you weren't thinking about business travel on Tuesday night as the poll-defying election results rolled in.
I was — and for better and worse, the results are a mixed bag.
The good news? We should learn fairly quickly if Donald Trump is a man of his word and honors his contracts.
The bad news? Someone who's sleeping with the enemy kept his position atop the Congressional transportation power structure.
One hundred days on the road
It may shock even supporters of President-elect Trump to learn that he has an transportation-infrastructure policy. After all, it's only 25 words. It wasn't well-publicized, either, because Trump introduced it on the same late October day he vowed to sue women accusing him of sexual indiscretions.
Still, it's in his Contract with the American Voter, which Trump promised to introduce "within the first 100 days of my Administration." The American Energy and Infrastructure Act, says the contract, "leverages public-private partnerships, and private investments through tax incentives, to spur $1 trillion in infrastructure investment over ten years. It is revenue neutral."
What's it mean? Hard to say, although Trump advisers have given at least one interview on the proposal. They seem to suggest that only for-profit and revenue-generating public projects will receive the promised $100 billion-a-year investment.
That sounds a lot like toll roads, toll-generating bridges and tunnels, and maybe airports — which can be underwritten with user fees collected on tickets. The private angle may be controversial, since Americans aren't used to transportation infrastructure owned or operated by private interests. Non-government actors would apparently get tax breaks, too.
In the nearly impenetrable fog of the Trump campaign's verbiage on anything that smacks of an actual policy initiative, at least transportation infrastructure has a defined, definitive timeline. Set your watches and smartphone calendars for 100 days from January 20, and let's see if legislation is actually introduced.
Sleeping with the enemy
Pennsylvania Republican Bill Shuster, like his father before him, is a Congressional high roller on infrastructure. As chairman of the House Transportation Committee, he'll not only control the fate of Trump's infrastructure bills, but he also has oversight on the Department of Transportation, airlines and even Amtrak.
But Shuster isn't just any inside-the-Beltway power player. He has a personal relationship with a lobbyist for the commercial airline industry's lobbying group.
That astounding state of, uh, affairs drew Shuster two stiff primary challenges for his seat in south central Pennsylvania's 9th District. This year, desperate Democrats nominated Shuster's primary antagonist, a Tea Party Republican named Art Halvorson, as their general-election candidate.
Shuster defeated Halvorson handily on Tuesday for his ninth term.
Down goes Mica
The 12-term Republican from central Florida is what Beltway insiders and their media chroniclers call "colorful." He's quick with a quotable quip, doesn't have much of a retinue and is, by any measure, an old-school pol. But he's also notably awful on most transportation issues.
He has repeatedly claimed he wants to privatize Amtrak but has seemed most intent on defunding and destroying the national railroad system. At the same time, he personally championed an egregious Florida boondoggle called SunRail. The $1 billion-plus project is nothing more than a bit of savory pork for one of his most generous contributors, the huge CSX freight-rail line. Opened in 2014, SunRail serves only about 3,000 travelers per day, and ridership plunges when gas prices fall.
Mica consistently claims credit for writing the bill that created the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) although there is scant proof to support his assertions. He's constantly starved transportation regulators such as the Federal Aviation Administration of revenue.
But bad governance eventually catches up with bad politicians — even in the Washington swamp. The 73-year-old Mica was upset on Tuesday by a political newcomer who didn't even enter the race until late June.
The troubles at the TSA
We've frequently covered the woes of the TSA, created hastily after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, nurtured fitfully during the George W. Bush administration and expanded haphazardly during the Obama years. The TSA is absurdly inefficient and despised by business and leisure travelers alike.
What's that got to do with President-elect Trump, who has his own fleet of private aircraft and hasn't flown commercial in years?
He surprised many during his Republican Party acceptance speech in July by pledging to "fix TSA at the airports, which is a total disaster." The "disaster" crack was an ad lib and doesn't appear in the prepared text. In fact, Trump hasn't mentioned the TSA again, so take the promise of a fix with a few gigantic grains of salt.
Lame ducks don't fly
Finally, a word of warning. The Department of Transportation, a steadfast protector of passenger rights during the Obama administration, will have to be dealt with before President Trump is inaugurated and before the 115th Congress opens for business on January 3. DOT appropriations expire early next month. That means some actual work ahead for the lame ducks of the 114th Congress.