Capitol Comments

It could be just a matter of time before children in Florida’s public schools are asking to see their parents’ report cards.  State Representative Kelli Stargel has filed HB255, also known as the Parent Involvement and Accountability Public School Bill. Under its provisions, in addition to giving students grades on report cards, teachers would also assign grades to the parents, using one of three scores: satisfactory, needs improvement or unsatisfactory.

A quick read of the headlines might lead one to think that state governments are headed the way of Lehman Brothers. However, a closer look at the tough decisions being made in state capitals across the country shows that governors and state legislators are confronting a historic state budget crisis head on. States know that there will be no more bailouts and are making the hard choices today on spending and taxes that Washington tends to ignore.

I’ve written a fair amount over the last year or so about the intersection of transportation and the environment in public policy, about Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth, about Climate Change and Transportation and about Green Transportation. Several new reports on related issues have come across my desk in recent weeks. Here’s a rundown.

High-speed rail continues to be a topic of debate in several regions of the country. Here’s a rundown of some of the developments in recent days.

I have a new Capitol Research brief out this week entitled “Rural Transportation Needs.” The concept for the brief evolved from a resolution our CSG Transportation Policy Task Force approved at the 2008 annual meeting in Omaha. One of the lines in that resolution reads “be it further resolved that the Council of State Governments supports a transportation authorization that considers the needs of both urban and rural areas.” That line, I believe, was an effort by our members to address what some at the time feared could become an urban bias in a fundamental reorganization of federal transportation programs under a new authorization regime. Three years later, that resolution is due to sunset later this year under CSG bylaws (we will likely endeavor to renew or revise it accordingly). There still is no agreement on a successor to SAFETEA-LU, which officially expired in 2009 and has been extended six times on a short-term basis. And a sea change has occurred in Congress not only politically but demographically. Republicans, who now control the House, made many of their gains in rural areas. That impacts what the expectations are for an authorization bill and what parts of the country are likely to benefit. But it is no less important to keep in mind the unique transportation needs of rural communities as the authorization debate resumes this year.

Next week, I’ll be in Washington, D.C. for the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies Annual Meeting, which brings together thousands of transportation professionals from some 70 countries to discuss all things transportation-related. With as many as 100 sessions going on simultaneously at any one time in three huge conference hotels, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the choices. As I’ve learned from attending the meeting in 2009 and 2010, it helps to map out a plan in advance. Here’s a look at my tentative schedule of sessions and events along with some suggested further reading for those who may be interested. You’ll be able to follow me on Twitter (@CSGTransport) and here on the blog starting Sunday.

I’ve blogged before about how the governors of New Jersey and Virginia, both elected in 2009, are tackling transportation issues in their respective states. Now, Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell are back in the news this month with ambitious transportation plans. Meanwhile, newly elected Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is proposing tapping transportation funds to prop up other government programs in his state budget. And as other states seek ways to finance improvements to their own transportation systems, a number of recent reports and developments put the focus on such mechanisms as public-private partnerships, congestion pricing and tolling.

University of Oregon (UO) President Richard Lariviere has unveiled a plan that would result in a radical new model in funding for his university which he believes will catapult it, financially anyway, toward the head of its class.

Six more states have joined the lawsuit filed in Florida asking to have the federal health reform act declared unconstitutional, according to the Miami Herald, bringing the plaintiff count in Florida to 26 states.  The six new states are Ohio, Kansas, Wyoming, Wisconsin and Maine -- all states where Republican candidates for attorney general replaced Democratic attorneys general after the November 2010 election.

The first half of January has already been full of news about federal transportation spending and how things may be different under new House leadership in the nation’s capital. The discussion continues about the potential impact of new House rules on the Highway Trust Fund and what a ban on earmarks may mean for transportation spending. Meanwhile, it appears there may be some movement afoot to tackle new legislation reauthorizing federal transportation programs this year.

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