A fundamental problem facing the industry is that the transit trust fund is not sustainable beyond 2013 at the current fuel tax levels. No one wants to discuss how we are going to pay for it, and it is a problem that is easier to ignore than to address. We should not expect any more infusions of cash from the general fund.
A theme often heard in the early days of this new Congress is that they must declare war on domestic spending. Public transportation funding IS domestic spending, and domestic jobs. Dollars spent on public transportation are an investment in this nation’s critical infrastructure. It both creates and provides access to jobs. How can we put this country back to work if people can’t get to work? Did you know that despite this country’s heightened awareness and support of the benefits of public transportation, today there are fewer transit projects under construction than there have been at any point over the last 10 years? Rolling stock production is down as well. As you plan your congressional visit, either at a local office or in D.C., think about how you might partner with a locally based counterpart in the private or public side of our industry. Multiple voices from different viewpoints articulating a common theme send a powerful message.
Another critical area to focus on is unobligated and unspent federal funds, especially ARRA funds. These funds are being targeted for reallocation. If you have a capital project that was approved for ARRA funding and you have not started spending down those funds, there are two critical steps you must take. First, clear the roadblocks and move the project forward now. Time is of the essence. Establish aggressive milestones and drive toward them. Second, bring your congressional delegates up to speed on what you are doing so that they will understand the value of continuing to fund that project. You worked hard to submit the original grant application and secure the appropriation of funds; don’t lose them now that you are this close to the finish line.
A key theme to close with would be to ask the member or his or her staff to check with you before acting on a piece of transit-related legislation. Be a resource for them. It is up to you to take that first step. Don’t just talk about it, do it.
I look forward to seeing you up on the Hill!
Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK)
Communicating the importance of transit to legislators is not an event, but a process. At the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK), we are continually working on this communications process. In order to be more organized and effective in our approach to legislative matters, we maintain a comprehensive government and community relations strategy that includes the following components.
Regular Agency Updates
It is critical to frequently communicate and maintain a positive image of our organization to leaders in our community. TANK publishes a quarterly “Report from the Road” which provides insights on the latest news, projects, challenges and accomplishments for transit in our region. More importantly, the report provides a clear, consistent and concise budget analysis. This analysis communicates to leaders that TANK is watching expenses closely, reacting strategically and increasing the transparency of public expenditures. The publication helps to create a more consistent message in our community about the role and well-being of the public transit system. This is the foundation upon which we can address more specific or technical legislative issues.
Over the years, TANK has developed a group of community stakeholders to help communicate our message. This group includes many of the “usual suspects” you would find in vocal support of transit — schools, universities, social service agencies, planning organizations, environmental organizations and local governments. This group serves as a sounding board for how we plan to address legislative matters — helping to refine our message and develop our strategy. They also are on-call, ready and willing to speak or act on our behalf.