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Iowa Senate district 45: Joe Seng has a primary challenger, Mark Riley

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Mar 12, 2014 at 15:22:00 PM CDT

If any Iowa Democrat deserves a primary challenge, it's three-term State Senator Joe Seng. Although the Davenport-based veterinarian represents one of the Democrats' safest urban districts, Seng is anti-choice and supported Republican calls for a vote against marriage equality in 2010. As chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, he has helped pass several bills that are good for industrial agriculture but bad for the environment, especially clean water. In addition, Seng himself challenged three-term U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack in the IA-02 Democratic primary two years ago, so he couldn't claim the moral high ground against a primary challenger for his state Senate seat.

I was excited to see yesterday that another Democratic candidate, Mark Riley, had filed papers to run in Senate district 45. When I realized Riley was Seng's Republican opponent in 2010 and ran an independent campaign against Iowa House Democrat Cindy Winckler in 2012, I became disappointed. Was he just a fake like the "Democrat" who ran against State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad in 2010?

I sought comment from Riley about why he was running as a Democrat in Iowa Senate district 45, having campaigned as a Republican in the same district a few years ago. I've posted his response after the jump. You be the judge. Riley would have my serious consideration if I lived on the west side of Davenport.  

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New passenger rail off the table for Iowa?

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Oct 21, 2013 at 09:55:00 AM CDT

Hopes to bring passenger rail service from Chicago to Iowa City and eventually to Des Moines and Council Bluffs appear to be dead. For the last three years, State Senator Matt McCoy tried to secure state matching funds for a federal passenger rail grant, citing many possible economic benefits to Iowa. Both Governor Terry Branstad and Iowa House Republicans have opposed allocating funds toward new passenger rail. Speaking to the Sunday Des Moines Register's William Petroski, McCoy blamed Iowa House Republicans, not the governor, for killing the project. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen told the Register that his caucus did not see the project as a "wise investment."

I've posted excerpts from yesterday's story after the jump. Neither McCoy nor Paulsen mentioned that the Iowa House speaker works for a trucking company. The trucking industry generally opposes improvements to rail infrastructure. Paulsen's closed mind on passenger rail is one reason I was disappointed when he decided against running for Congress.

UPDATE: Added new comments from Branstad after the jump.

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Iowa passenger rail follow-up and discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Mon May 14, 2012 at 06:36:00 AM CDT

In the final days of the 2011 Iowa legislative session, funding for passenger rail was one of the last disputes House Republican and Senate Democratic negotiators resolved. The final deal called for no passenger rail money in the state budget for fiscal year 2012, but left "intent" language describing future state funding to match federal grants for a train route between Iowa City and Chicago. At that time, news reports indicated that legislators would need to allocate $6.5 million toward passenger rail in fiscal year 2013 to keep this project alive, plus $10 million total in subsequent years.

Before the Iowa House and Senate adjourned last week, I saw no mention of passenger rail funding in any reports about the infrastructure budget for fiscal year 2013, which begins on July 1. Wondering whether no news was bad news, I started asking around. What I learned is after the jump, along with new links on the potential for passenger rail across Iowa.

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Branstad deals blow to passenger rail advocates

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Aug 25, 2011 at 19:53:38 PM CDT

Catching up on news from last week, Governor Terry Branstad has withdrawn Iowa's membership in the leading advocacy group for passenger rail connecting the Midwest.  
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Iowa Transportation Commission members back passenger rail project

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Aug 03, 2011 at 14:03:35 PM CDT

The Iowa legislature barely kept hope alive for future funding to support a passenger rail link connecting Iowa City to Chicago, via the Quad Cities. However, most Iowa Transportation Commission members back the Amtrak project and would consider moving funds from other areas to make it happen.
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Iowa legislature trying to wrap up on last day of fiscal year (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jun 30, 2011 at 11:51:54 AM CDT

The last day of fiscal year 2011 has arrived, and Iowa lawmakers still have not completed work on next year's budget. Several pieces have cleared the Iowa House and Senate after backroom deals were reached on some contention issues. Notably, House Republicans and Senate Democrats reached a compromise on preschool and K-12 school funding. However, abortion language is still holding up the health and human services budget bill, covering a huge chunk of Iowa government spending.

More details about this week's budget deal-making are after the jump. I will update this post throughout the day as news emerges from the Iowa House and Senate. Legislators plan to pass a one-month stopgap budget to keep state government funded while Governor Terry Branstad reviews the budget bills that reach his desk. (The governor has the power to item-veto certain appropriations.) As of this morning, the same abortion dispute blocking the health and human services bill is holding up passage of the stopgap budget.

Democratic and Republican negotiators gave up trying to find a compromise on property tax reform earlier this week. Both the Iowa House and Senate have passed property tax reform legislation, but the approaches differ vastly from one another and from Branstad's preferred approach. If the governor calls a special legislative later this year, property taxes may come back on the agenda.

UPDATE: The last budget bills passed during the afternoon on June 30. The House approved the 30-day stopgap budget, 87 to 7. State representatives who voted no were Democrats Vicki Lensing, Mary Mascher, Mary Wolfe, Cindy Winckler and Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, and Republicans Tom Shaw and Kim Pearson.

The Health and Human Services budget conference committee report passed the Iowa House by a 61 to 33 vote. Most Republicans present voted yes, and most Democrats present voted no. Eight Democrats voted yes: Dennis Cohoon, Curt Hanson, Dan Muhlbauer, Brian Quirk, Andrew Wenthe, Chris Hall, Helen Miller, and Lisa Heddens. Four Republicans voted no: Kim Pearson, Glen Massie, Tom Shaw, and Jason Schultz. In other words, Republicans had the votes to pass the health and human services budget without any support from House Democrats.

The Iowa Senate approved the health and human services budget by a 27 to 18 vote. I don't know yet who crossed party lines but will update once the Senate Journal containing roll call votes has been published.

After the jump I've added more details on the compromise Medicaid abortion coverage language. According to State Senator Jack Hatch, there will be "no change" to the circumstances in which Iowa women can receive Medicaid coverage for abortion costs.

Scroll to the end of this post for closing statements from House and Senate leaders of both political parties. Everyone sounds relieved to see the end of the third-longest session in Iowa legislature history.

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Iowa passenger rail funding update

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 15, 2011 at 12:57:58 PM CDT

Last October the U.S. Department of Transportation approved $230 million for passenger rail between Iowa City and Chicago, going through the Quad Cities. However, the November election results placed both federal and state money for that project in doubt.

Follow me after the jump for recent news on prospects for funding the passenger rail link.  

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Branstad against funding AFSCME contract, K-12 increases, passenger rail

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jan 24, 2011 at 10:18:12 AM CST

UPDATE: Click here for more details on the draft budget the governor presented on January 27.

During his regular weekly press conference, Governor Terry Branstad announced today that state departments would have to take cuts because the state can't afford the salary increases in the two-year contract Governor Chet Culver approved last year with AFSCME, the largest labor union representing state workers. Branstad added that he's not worried about facing a lawsuit (like the one AFSCME successfully filed against him in 1991) because the Iowa legislature won't fund the new AFSCME contract. AFSCME members overwhelmingly voted to approve the contract, which includes salary increases of just under 3 percent in fiscal years 2012 and 2013. Branstad wants the union to reopen negotiations.

Citing budget constraints, Branstad said today "he will not request any increase in 'allowable growth' in state aid for K-12 school districts base budgets in either of the next two fiscal years." I believe the Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate will resist that plan.

UPDATE: Doesn't sound like a way to provide "world-class education" for Iowa kids. Under Branstad's "no allowable growth" proposal,

a school would not be legally allowed to expand their budgets unless the district sees a surge in enrollment.

Inflation for such things as employee salaries and fuel costs make a no-growth policy virtually impossible for hundreds of Iowa's district to handle without massive cuts to programs, services and teachers, educational advocates said.

"The only way they can make it up is to cut programs or services and most of the schools have already been doing that," said Brad Hudson, a lobbyist for the Iowa State Education Association. "Most of the schools have already looked at reductions to music, art and physical education. Now we're to the point of looking at the elimination of programs and probably larger class sizes."

Also during today's press conference, Branstad said he does not favor state subsidies for passenger rail, although he isn't against communities or railroads subsidizing that service, the Des Moines Register's Kathie Obradovich reported. Those comments indicate that like Iowa House Republicans, Branstad wants to eliminate about $10 million in state funding needed to secure an $81 million in federal money to extend passenger rail service from the Quad Cities to Iowa City. The federal government awarded the funds last October.

UPDATE: William Petroski has more detail on Branstad's passenger rail stance:

He noted that the $310 million state-federal project in cooperation with the state of Illinois would include money to upgrade the tracks of the Iowa Interstate Railroad, and he suggested the railroad could be asked to help contribute towards the costs.

"There are two questions: One is the state's initial requirement and then there is an ongoing subsidy. I am most troubled by the ongoing subsidy. I don't think we should be in the business of subsidizing passenger train service," Branstad told reporters. [...]

The governor, who will issue his state budget recommendations on Thursday, added that he still hasn't made a final decision yet about the proposed Iowa City-to-Chicago train.

Branstad continued to advocate for biennial budgeting today. Legislators from both parties are wary of that proposal, because it would in effect increase the governor's budget transfer powers. The national trend has been away from biennial budgeting, which tends to result in less accurate budget forecasting and greater need for supplemental appropriations than annual budgeting.

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Branstad keeps DOT head Richardson in place for now

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Dec 15, 2010 at 06:20:00 AM CST

Governor-elect Terry Branstad has asked Nancy Richardson to remain head of the Iowa Department of Transportation "through the 2011 legislative session." Governor Tom Vilsack appointed Richardson to head the DOT during his second term; she was one of the few department heads Governor Chet Culver kept in place. A Branstad press release with background on Richardson is after the jump. It says she "is a strong leader and we appreciate her willingness to serve in the administration as we continue our nationwide search for a new director."

Perhaps Branstad will take several months to consider DOT candidates from around the country, but he hasn't been using that kind of process for other appointments announced so far. Shortly after the election, he offered the Department of Inspections and Appeals director job to Rod Roberts, who hadn't even applied for the position, let alone competed against other possible appointees in an interview.

My first thought on hearing the news about Richardson was that Branstad has already decided on a new DOT director, but for some reason that person isn't available to start the job until the spring. (The Iowa legislature's 2011 session begins in January; most years, legislators wrap up their work in April.) It could be someone outside Iowa who needs a few months to relocate, or someone who needs to finish a major project in her/his current job, or perhaps a sitting state legislator who doesn't want to step down until after the session.

Alternatively, Branstad may have someone controversial in mind for the DOT position. State department heads must be confirmed by the Iowa Senate. If Branstad appoints Richardson's replacement after the session ends, that person will be able to serve on an interim basis until the Senate considers the nomination in early 2012.

UPDATE: Branstad's spokesman Tim Albrecht told the Des Moines Register, "We do not have anyone lined up at this time. We are still in the midst of our search, and that is not confined to the borders of Iowa. This is going to be a thorough search to find the right individual." I wonder why Branstad wants a much more lengthy search for this position than for various other important state departments.

While she stays on the job, I hope that Richardson will help persuade Branstad not to back out of a passenger rail project that would connect Iowa City to Chicago via the Quad Cities. Richardson isn't a visionary for alternative modes of transportation, but she supported the Culver administration's efforts to promote passenger rail in Iowa. Branstad said he is reviewing the costs and benefits of the project. The federal government has approved $230 million in funding for the Iowa portion of the rail connection. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley has spoken favorably about the project, and Des Moines business leaders hope the Chicago-Iowa City connection will one day be extended through Des Moines and on to Council Bluffs and Omaha.

Republican governors-elect in Ohio and Wisconsin have rejected federal funding for passenger rail projects. That decision is already costing Wisconsin jobs and will cost Ohio economic development opportunities.

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Branstad not sold on new passenger rail for Iowa

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Nov 08, 2010 at 14:57:08 PM CST

Governor-elect Terry Branstad expressed concern today about the cost of new passenger rail links between Chicago and cities in Iowa.

"Well, I want to analyze the situation," Branstad said. "I'm very concerned about the federal debt." Public transportation advocates say if states like Ohio and Wisconsin reject high speed rail, it could stymie projects all across the Midwest. Branstad says he doesn't want to rush to judgment.

"I want to carefully review and analyze the circumstances and I understand there are concerns about the huge cost of this and how cost effective it is and how much it would really be utilized," Branstad said.

In late October, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced $230 million in funding for a new Amtrak route connecting Iowa City to Chicago via the Quad Cities. Senator Chuck Grassley has spoken approvingly about the project. A spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration told me last week, "The money has been awarded." One question mark is whether the route could be completed if the Iowa legislature declines to fund our state's share of the costs in future years:

The project will cost $310 million, and Iowa and Illinois will pay pro-rated shares of costs not covered by the federal government. Iowa lawmakers have already appropriated $10 million and need to come up with another $10 million, said Tamara Nicholson, director of the Iowa DOT's rail office. The state would also pay an estimated $3 million annually in operating subsidies. [...]

Train supporters hope the route will someday be extended to Des Moines and Omaha. Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie has endorsed the idea and Tom Kane, executive director of the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning organization, says passenger trains are important to the future of Des Moines and the national transportation system.

"We know that much of the air traffic out of Chicago is for trips of less than 500 miles, so why are we flying? There will also be future congestion on the interstate highway system, particularly from freight and trucks. This will give our transportation consumers a choice," Kane said.

Kane's point is valid, but Republican lawmakers would probably rather widen interstate highways, even if that proved more costly than adding rail capacity.

The best hope of bringing Branstad around is a lobbying effort by business interests. Quite a few corporations and business groups support the Quad Cities Passenger Rail Coalition. The Greater Des Moines Partnership and central Iowa Young Professionals Connection back extending passenger rail across Iowa. This year's chairman of the Greater Des Moines Partnership is Doug Reichardt, who is close to Branstad and was rumored to be on his short list for running mates last year. One of the partnership's past presidents, Teresa Wahlert, "played a lead role in Branstad's economic development agenda" during this year's campaign.

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Record-breaking transit ridership saved Iowans nearly 9,000,000 gallons of gas last year

by: environmentiowa

Wed Sep 23, 2009 at 11:06:04 AM CDT

For Immediate Release - September 23, 2009

Contact: Eric Nost, Environment Iowa, Office: 515-243-5835 Cell: 319-621-0075, enost@environmentiowa.org

Record-breaking transit ridership saved Iowans nearly 9,000,000 gallons of gas last year

Des Moines, IA In 2008, people in Iowa saved nearly nine million gallons of gasoline by riding transit in record numbers – the amount consumed by 15,300 cars. In addition to fuel savings, public transportation reduced global warming pollution here by 80,000 tons. Transportation accounts for more than two-thirds of the nation's dependence on oil, and about one-third of our carbon dioxide pollution Environment Iowa outlined in their new report Getting On Track: Record Transit Ridership Increases Energy Independence.

“People are voting with their feet by driving less and taking more public transportation,” said Eric Nost , state associate with the statewide citizen advocacy organization. “Congress should listen to these voters and invest more in public transportation, which will increase our energy independence and reduce global warming pollution,” Nost added.

Micki Sandquist, executive director of the American Lung Association in Iowa noted, “we support public policies that encourage appropriate mass transit and alternative transportation options. Conservation is always the first and most obtainable goal in any effort to reduce petroleum consumption and the air pollution it causes, and using mass transit is an easy and effective way for anyone to reduce their consumption of petroleum fuels.”

Iowans drove less, with 2.07 million fewer miles driven in 2008 than in the year before - an eight percent drop that was the largest percent decrease in the country. People drove less due in part to volatile fuel prices and decreased economic activity, and many of these car trips were replaced by transit. In fact, ridership increased by five percent above 2007 levels.

“But in spite of the huge potential for transit to reduce oil consumption and pollution, the vast majority of transportation funding is spent on roads,” said Nost. “Instead of spending money to build new highways that only increase our dependence on oil, our leaders here in Iowa and in Congress should drive more money to transit and high-speed rail,” Nost argued.

Andrew Snow, campaign director at the Environmental Law and Policy Center, agreed. "This report demonstrates very clearly that demand for better public transit continues to grow very quickly. While our highways and interstate system are congested with traffic, rail and other transit systems will allow Iowans an efficient option to increase mobility and increase productivity for our people and businesses. I have no doubt that the unprecedented demand for travel within and without the state can and should be met with improved rail and multi-modal transportation options for our citizens. Our economy can't continue to compete without better transportation, and Iowans must be connected to the Midwest transportation network."

In order to maximize the potential of public transportation to save energy and reduce pollution, Environment Iowa is asking local, state, and federal leaders to:

  •       Issue overarching goals for reducing oil dependence and pollution through transportation, which will guide better policy.
  •       Increase investment in cleaner public transportation, to include transit, high speed rail, and better walking and biking options.
  •       Level the playing field in terms of funding and approving transit projects, relative to road projects. Approval of transit and highway investments should be governed by an equivalent set of rules and matching ratios.
  •       Increase funding for transit maintenance and day-to-day operations, in addition to improving and expanding capacity. Federal, state and local funds should allow for greater flexibility in funding operations - new buses and trains are useless without drivers to drive them and mechanics to maintain them.
In the near term, Environment Iowa is calling on Congress to incorporate the full provisions of CLEAN TEA (the Clean, Low Emissions, Affordable New Transportation Equity Act, S. 575 ), into the climate bill being debated now in the Senate. CLEAN TEA would direct 10 percent of climate bill allowances to clean transportation efforts that will save oil and reduce emissions.

“We hope Senators Grassley and Harkin will support this forward-thinking legislation to lessen dependence on oil and cut pollution,” Nost concluded.

###

Environment Iowa is a state-based, citizen-funded organization working for clean air, clean water, and open space.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center is the Midwest’s leading public interest environmental legal advocacy and eco-business innovation organization.
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More promising signs for passenger rail in Iowa

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jul 23, 2009 at 11:03:23 AM CDT

This Sunday Governor Chet Culver is taking a train tour to promote passenger rail in eastern Iowa, similar to the trip he took through western Iowa last month. After the jump I've posted a news release from the governor's office with details on his planned stops in Iowa City, West Liberty, Durant, Walcott and Moline, Illinois, where the Quad Cities' passenger rail depot will be located. From there Culver will travel to Chicago for the Midwest High Speed Rail Summit on Monday.

The U.S. has ten high-speed rail corridors, and Business Week reported earlier this summer that the Midwestern and California corridors are well-positioned to receive some of the $8 billion in stimulus funds allocated for high-speed rail. A Federal Railroad Administration official spoke favorably of cooperation among eight midwestern governors, including Culver.

Competition for the stimulus rail funding will be stiff. The T4America blog reported last week that 40 states submitted a combined $102 billion in high-speed rail proposals for the $8 billion in stimulus funds. The overwhelming response from states prompted the House Appropriations Committee to allocate $4 billion toward high-speed rail in the coming year. The Obama administration had asked for $1 billion.

The Culver administration deserves praise for recognizing the benefits of passenger rail routes through Iowa to Chicago. The I-JOBS program included $3 million for expanding passenger rail service, and Iowa also has allocated a portion of our transportation funds from the stimulus bill to rail. These investments will help secure future federal funding for the projects. Rail links will benefit many Iowans who cannot drive (including a growing number of senior citizens) as well as those who prefer not to drive or fly.

Iowa Republicans may mock Culver's commitment to passenger rail, but governors from both parties recognize the economic benefits that strong rail networks can bring. Those who argue that we cannot afford to invest in passenger rail during an economic recession should read this piece by BruceMcF, one of the best transportation bloggers around.

UPDATE: From the Iowa Global Warming Campaign:

Call Tom Latham NOW and tell him to support Passenger Rail in Iowa. He is trying to strip $3billion! 202-225-5476

LATE UPDATE: From Friday's Des Moines Register:

Plans for a study needed to revive Des Moines-to-Chicago passenger train service have been put on a side track at least until next year, state officials say.

But Amtrak passenger train service to Dubuque and the Quad Cities appears likely in about two years.

Amtrak had been expected to complete a feasibility study sometime this year for twice-daily train service between Des Moines and Chicago. But the railroad has been deluged with requests for studies elsewhere in the wake of a national push to expand passenger train service, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said in Chicago.
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As a result, Amtrak won't finish the Des Moines study until money issues are resolved to ensure service between Chicago and Iowa City, Magliari said. An Amtrak report in 2008 suggested an Iowa City passenger train could start operating if about $32 million could be obtained to upgrade Iowa tracks and signals. [...]

Iowa Department of Transportation Director Nancy Richardson said this week she hopes money issues for the Iowa City train can be resolved by early next year, which would permit work to completed on the Des Moines train study. The state agency is seeking federal economic-stimulus money for the Iowa City project.

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Iowa investing transportation stimulus funds well so far

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jun 30, 2009 at 02:00:00 AM CDT

June 29 was exactly 120 days since the federal government released highway funds to the states as part of the economic stimulus bill (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act). Smart Growth America marked the occasion by releasing a review on how wisely states are spending the transportation money.

The 120-day mark is significant because it is the point by which states and territories are required to have obligated 50 percent of the flexible money granted them for transportation projects by the federal government. The money is meant to stimulate the economy, but also - in the language of the Act - "to invest in transportation, environmental protection, and other infrastructure that will provide long-term economic benefits."

Iowa received about $358 million in federal highway stimulus funds, and I was pleased to read in Smart Growth America's report (pdf file) that our state's allocations compare favorably with those in most other states. Follow me after the jump for more details.  

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Iowa DOT seeking input on passenger transportation funding

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 07:02:39 AM CDT

I received an action alert from 1000 Friends of Iowa about six important public meetings next week:

The Iowa DOT is presenting Iowans with a golden opportunity to encourage sustainable transportation and land-use before April ends. Whether you feel we need more bike-to-work lanes, passenger rail options, or goals to address climate change - this is your chance to be heard. Six meetings are being held across the state to seek the public's input on transportation needs.  [...] The Statewide Passenger Transportation Funding Study is seeking your input to identify gaps between current public transit, carpool/vanpool programs, intercity bus and rail services, and what you and your neighbors believe are transportation needs.  Using the information from these meetings and through other sources, plans will be made to address Iowa's future transportation plans.

Event details for the meetings in Ames, Atlantic, Ottumwa, Mason City, Cedar Rapids and Cherokee are after the jump.

Please spread the word among Iowans who would like to see more investment in public transportation and alternatives to driving. You don't have to be an expert to speak or submit written comments at one of these meetings. Just say a few words about where Iowa's passenger transportation is lacking and why you'd like to see it improved.

Remember, public transit is not just for big city residents. An express bus or vanpool that takes people from a smaller town to work in a nearby larger city saves riders money while reducing oil usage and greenhouse gas emissions. Last year the weekly Cityview profiled Winterset resident Ann Pashek, who uses the Des Moines Area Transit Authority's Rideshare program. Taking the van to and from Pashek job in Des Moines saves her thousands of dollars a year, and she can use the commute to "complete work or pay bills that would normally detract from valuable family time."

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Obama announces plans for high-speed rail funding

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 19:49:51 PM CDT

LATE UPDATE: This piece by BruceMcF is a must-read: How to build a national high-speed rail system.

President Barack Obama and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood released a

blueprint for a new national network of high-speed passenger rail lines Thursday, saying such an investment is necessary to reduce traffic congestion, cut dependence on foreign oil and improve the environment.

The president's plan identifies 10 potential high-speed intercity corridors for federal funding, including California, the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest, the Southeast, the Gulf Coast, Pennsylvania, Florida, New York and New England.

It also highlights potential improvements in the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor running from Washington to Boston, Massachusetts.

The economic stimulus package included about $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, and Obama is seeking an additional $1 billion each year for high-speed rail in the next five federal budgets.

After the jump I've got more details on how this funding could benefit Iowa.

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Tell legislators to fund passenger rail in Iowa

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Apr 10, 2009 at 12:55:04 PM CDT

Following up on my post from Wednesday, here's another issue to bring up when you contact your state representatives and senators. (Hat tip to noneed4thneed.)

Iowa Global Warming is calling on supporters to advocate for at least $25 million in passenger rail funding as part of the huge infrastructure bonding package that is likely to pass. $25 million is less than 5 percent of the cost of the bonding bill.

I'm a fan of calling your elected officials rather than e-mailing this late in the session, because I am not convinced they get through all the messages in their in-boxes.

Iowa Senate switchboard: 515-281-3371

Iowa House switchboard: 515-281-3221

If you prefer to e-mail, Iowa Global Warming has made it really easy for you on this page. They also provide some talking points, such as

- The future of our state economy will be determined by the decisions we make now about infrastructure

- Reliable, efficient and economical rail service connecting Iowa to Chicago and other Midwest cities will ensure that Iowa can fully benefit from the regional economy

Iowa Global Warming has a sample letter ready for you to send, although it's better to put these things in your own words if you have time.

This thread is for discussing anything Iowa progressives should bring up with their representatives and senators before the end of session. Don't let anyone tell you elected officials don't pay attention to how many voters they hear from on an issue.  

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Boswell Pushing for Expanding Amtrak in Iowa

by: noneed4thneed

Sat Mar 07, 2009 at 11:16:18 AM CST

Rep. Leonard Boswell is pushing for a feasibility study of Amtrak service from Chicago through Iowa to Omaha.

Iowa's Third District Congressman Leonard Boswell has asked that AMTRAK study the feasibility of extending a proposed Chicago to the Quad Cities passenger train not only to Iowa City and Des Moines, but also on west to Council Bluffs and Omaha. This is the first time that AMTRAK has been asked by a government official to consider extending service beyond Des Moines. AMTRAK, at the request of the Iowa Department of Transportation, is looking at the feasibility of a Des Moines to the Quad Cities and Chicago train. [...]

If passenger train services returns in Iowa between the Quad Cities and Council Bluffs-Omaha, it would use the former Rock Island line. Cities along the route from the Mississippi River to the Missouri River include Davenport, Iowa City, Grinnell, Newton, Des Moines, and Atlantic.

I am definitely on board with this idea.

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No Silver Bullet, But Bullet Trains Are a Start

by: JulianaW

Fri Feb 13, 2009 at 22:13:30 PM CST

(See also the post from IowaGlobalWarming in the recent diary section. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

In remarkable parallel to the climate crisis, there is no single solution to reviving our economy - it will take a combination of innovative thinking and bold actions to face both challenges. The American Recovery and Investment Act (of which Jesse provides a great summary of energy-related features) illustrates that.

I want to take a moment to talk about one feature in the stimulus bill that occupied one sentence in his summary: high-speed passenger rail.

The American Recovery and Investment Act included a total of $9.3 billion for passenger rail: $8 billion for construction of high speed passenger rail and intercity passenger rail service and $1.3 billion for Amtrak (the National Railroad Passenger Corporation) rail investments. As I was talking about this today, the number of atrocious puns that came up was amazing:

  • "High speed passenger rail can get the economy back on track"
  • "Everyone's getting on board with passenger rail"
  • "Trains can be a model for environomics*"
  • "The little stimulus package that could"

*environomics refers to developing a sustainable global economy

I could continue with the jokes, but you get the picture. However, I think it is worth noting that not only is there substantial support for high speed passenger rail in Congress (the original amount was $3 billion in the House and $2.25 billion in the Senate - apparently somebody in the conference committee likes us), but there is broad support among the public. Out here in the Midwest, we have been working to gain support and funding for a high speed passenger rail network, with its hub in Chicago. This system would provide high speed service to St. Louis, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Madison, the Twin Cities and Omaha. For a little context, the trip from Omaha to Detroit is approximately a quarter of the width of the continental 48 states.

Map from www.midwesthsr.org

What is even more impressive to me is how rail can really be a model for how to actually engage diverse players in building a sustainable economy. Here in Iowa, we are building a coalition of labor, business and youth organizations (in addition to the traditional environmental groups) to work together on getting high speed passenger rail approved this year. And we're not just talking liberal groups either. For example Jan Michaelson, a local conservative talk show host, had nothing but good things to say about rail when Andrew Snow from Iowa Global Warming joined his show this week. Talk about finally moving past partisanship - rail is one of the clearest vehicles to make this a reality (no apologies for the pun).

There are plenty of issues that can build a diverse base of support, but the thing is, high speed rail visibly makes lots of people's lives easier. Upgrading building efficiency largely goes unnoticed except for electricity bills; people don't see the wind energy powering their homes. But talk about saving yourself the hassle of driving several hours, not having to drive through traffic, and oh, did I mention that rail is about 3 times as efficient as driving and 6 times as efficient as flying. Oh, and hundreds to thousands of jobs will be created through construction and operation.

Rail has broad support, has a significant improvement in the ease of travel and will save countless vehicle miles traveled (well, you probably could count them, but it would keep you very busy). We can use rail as a way to build successful and diverse coalitions which we can then continue to work with to advance the less visible, less sexy aspects of sustainability. These relationships will be crucial to mobilizing society-wide action.

All aboard!

Originally posted on It's Getting Hot In Here
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Recovery Act Invests $9.3 Billion to Expand High-Speed Rail

by: IowaGlobalWarming

Fri Feb 13, 2009 at 18:25:24 PM CST

Recovery Act Invests $9.3 Billion to Expand High-Speed Rail

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 13, 2009

Recovery Act Invests $9.3 Billion to Expand High-Speed Rail in America

The final version of the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act now before Congress includes an unprecedented $8 billion investment in high-speed rail. In addition, Amtrak will receive $1.3 billion to
rebuild trains and improve its capacity.

“We commend President Obama and Congress for helping to get America moving again with modern trains,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “Investing
in high-speed rail projects will put people to work quickly, create new economic opportunities, increase mobility and reduce traffic congestion and pollution.”

The $8 billion made available through the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be awarded competitively to states to improve passenger rail service, primarily on those corridors where 110 mph
service is proposed. Funds can also be used on conventional rail projects that relieve congestion. The Midwest is very well positioned, with federally designated high-speed rail corridors radiating out in a
hub-and-spoke network from Chicago to St. Louis, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Madison and the Twin Cities.

“The Environmental Law & Policy Center has long called for the development of a Midwest high-speed rail network. Governors and state Departments of Transportation have embraced high-speed rail as
modern, fast, comfortable and convenient. We have done the homework and prep work. These projects are now ready to build,” said Learner. “We look forward to working with the states to meet Congress’s challenge to rebuild America with cleaner transportation.”

“Congress has moved on the right track toward economic recovery,” said Learner. “Investing in modern, high-speed rail is an important down payment on America’s transportation future.”

###

NOTE: Due to very high web traffic, the bill itself is difficult to download from Congress’s website. ELPC has made the documents available on its website at:
http://elpc.org/american-recovery-and-reinvestment-information

The Environmental Law and Policy Center is the Midwest’s leading public interest environmental legal advocacy and eco-business innovation organization.

www.elpc.org

www.iowaglobalwarming.org

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Open thread on good news and bad news in the stimulus bill

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Feb 12, 2009 at 14:01:18 PM CST

It didn't take long for representatives and senators to reach a compromise on a $790 billion stimulus bill. Chris Bowers posted a good summary of the bill at Open Left. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's selling point is that the bill that came out of conference creates more jobs than the original Senate bill while spending less money than the original House bill.

I don't believe the bill is large enough to do the job it's supposed to do, especially since it still contains costly measures that won't stimulate the economy much (such as fixing the alternative minimum tax, which hits high-income Americans).

I hope President Barack Obama will take a tougher line in future negotiations with Congress. He did too much pre-compromising with Republicans, to the detriment of the final bill. His original suggestion of an $800 billion price tag for the stimulus, seen by some as a "floor" that would increase when Congress got to work, became a "ceiling" above which any bill was viewed as too expensive.

He also included too many non-stimulative tax cuts in his original proposal to Congress. Predictably, Republicans demanded (and got) even more concessions, even though none of them voted for the bill in the House and only three voted for it in the Senate.

Bowers noticed one Q and A from Obama's prime-time press conference the other night, which hints that the president learned a lesson about negotiating from this experience.

Bowers believes that "The deal isn't perfect, but it is still probably the best piece of legislation to pass Congress in, oh, 15 or 16 years."

David Sirota is also mostly pleased:

I'm not happy that the stimulus bill was made less stimulative by reactionary Republicans and embarrassingly incoherent Democrats. I'm also not happy that direct spending on infrastructure/social programs comprises a miniscule 4.6% of all the government funds spent to deal with this economic crisis. However, considering how far progressives have pushed the debate, I'd say the deal on the economic stimulus package is a huge victory.

Remember, only months ago, the incoming administration and the Congress were talking about passing a stimulus bill at around $350 billion. Remember, too, that Obama started out pushing a stimulus package chock full of odious tax cuts. Now, we've got a bill that's $790 billion (including a sizable downpayment for major progressive priorities) and stripped of the worst tax cuts.

Your opinion of the stimulus may depend on which issues you care about most. Open Left user WI Dem noticed that the compromise bill included more funding for high-speed rail but less for urban public transit, which "has a far greater effect on CO2 [emissions] and on people's daily lives."

Via the twitter feed of Daily Iowan opinion writers, I found this piece by Climate Progress on "what's green" in the stimulus compromise.

The Republican Party is already planning to run ads against 30 Democrats who will vote for the stimulus. It makes sense for the GOP to bet against the stimulus, because they won't get credit if it succeeds, and their best hope for a comeback in the next election cycle is for Democrats to fail. The main risk for them is that if the stimulus package succeeds, the upcoming advertising campaign people could make more people remember that Republicans tried to stand in its way.

Speaking of Republican propaganda, contrary to what your wingnut friends may tell you, the stimulus bill does not earmark $30 million to save "Nancy Pelosi's mouse." It does include some funding for federal wetlands restoration, however.

UPDATE: TPM's Elana Schor provides surprising proof that no politician is wrong 100 percent of the time. Apparently Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma got a $2 billion "clean coal" earmark out of the stimulus bill.

Greg Sargent explains how "Pelosi's mouse" went from fabrication to talking point for right-wing television pundits.

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