Senator Murray Discusses Transportation at Statewide Conference

Aug 23 2004

Remarks to Washington Public Transportation Conference in Yakima

Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray delivered the opening speech of the Washington Public Transportation Conference in Yakima.

Senator Murray's remarks follow:

First of all, thank you, Mayor George, for that kind introduction. I want to welcome all of you to Yakima as we kick-off this conference. And I want to thank you for the work you do every day to keep our state moving forward.

At this conference, we have leaders from every corner of Washington. Some of you work in rural communities, where residents are spread out, and resources are limited. Some of you come from urban areas, where gridlock frustrates residents and hurts businesses. And some of you represent those places in between -- small, urbanized communities, where it's a struggle to keep up with growing demands.

Wherever you come from, and whether you represent transit, passenger rail or ferries, you help people get where they need to go, and you make our entire state stronger. I want to thank you -- because with all the challenges our state faces -- we sure need the jobs, the growth and the quality of life that you deliver.

Some people say that our economy is doing just fine and that we've turned the corner. Well I look around and I see people who can't find jobs, I see workers waiting for job training, I see families who can't afford healthcare, and I'm not satisfied. Today our unemployment rate is still higher than the national average. And I know we can do better.

One of the ways to do better is to invest in public transportation. It's an engine that drives our economy, creates jobs, and makes business more productive. And it makes a real difference in people's lives helping people commute from home to work, a mother move from welfare to work, helping a senior citizen visit family members, helping a disabled resident get to the doctor, and in some communities, helping kids get to school. All of your work makes a difference, and I've been proud to support it.

But today in Washington, D.C., some politicians are blocking the support you need. They refuse to make the investments we need, and that limits what you can do to help your communities. It's frustrating to me, and I know it's frustrating to you. It makes it harder for you to plan and meet changing needs.

Those opponents in Washington, D.C. may not understand why your work is so important – but I certainly do, and I'm not going to let them off the hook.

So today, I want to update you on what's happening with the surface transportation bill. And I want to update you on some of the investments we've made together, some new opportunities for ferry funding, and challenges on passenger rail.

I first got involved in transportation 16 years ago. I had just been elected as a new member of the Washington State Senate, and I did a very unusual thing – I asked for a seat on the Transportation Committee.

At the time, there were no women on that committee. Some of the Senators -- who knew what it was like -- told me, "Patty, I hope you know how to play golf."

They couldn’t understand why a woman would want to be on the transportation committee. But I knew why. I told them if you’ve ever been stuck in traffic with a child who's just been potty-trained, who's really gotta go to the bathroom, then you know every second stuck in traffic matters!

So I got my start on transportation projects a long time ago, and now – in the United States Senate – I'm in a great position to help our state. For the past few years, I've been the top Democrat on the Senate's transportation funding committee. That means I'm at the table – writing our nation's transportation budget – and standing up for the things we need.

And here's a quick comparison. Back in 2000, when Senator Slade Gorton and I were both on the transportation committee, we got $68 million for Washington state transportation projects. $68 million – with the two of us on the committee – in our best year. But this year -- because I'm the top Democrat -- I secured $245 million for our state.

From $68 million to $245 million – that makes a big difference for each of you – and for our state. We know that every dollar invested in public transportation generates six dollars in economic benefits. So, transportation has been one of my top priorities because it helps everyone in our state -- whether you're rich or poor, whether you're a man or a woman, and whether you're potty trained . . . . or not!

In the Senate, as I secure that funding, I know that local experts like you are making sure every dollar does the most good. Whether you do engineering work, plan service routes, help the disabled, or drive the buses, trains, and ferries, you help people get where they're going quickly and safely.

And you do it all in an atmosphere of growing challenges. One problem is our slow economy. Another has been the impact of Initiative 695, which has squeezed public transportation throughout our state. And one of the biggest challenges has been the great population growth we've seen lately.

That's boosted demand for public transit. In fact, between 1995 and 2001, transit use grew by 22-percent. That pushed transit use to the highest levels in more than 40 years. Whether its Yakima Transit, C-Tran, Sound Transit, Pierce Transit, Spokane Transit, or another agency, you want to meet the needs but you're frustrated by inadequate investment.

That's why I'm doing all I can in the United States Senate to provide what you need. Over the past three years, I've secured nearly $100 million in federal earmarks to 62 bus and bus facility projects. I’ve also secured millions of dollars for many of your organizations, and I've landed funding to the state for ITS, Sound Transit, reverse commute programs, and research programs. And that's on top $600 million last year alone in highway and transit formula funds.

I've also worked to get the federal government to recognize some of our special transportation needs. You know, in Washington, D.C., many people think a ferry is something you ride for pleasure on a vacation. I've tried to show them that it's a lifeline that Washingtonians depend on each year. To me it's not fair that ferries get just one-tenth of one percent of all surface transportation dollars.

That's why I wrote the Ferry-TEA bill – to dramatically boost funding for ferries and to begin treating ferries like other transportation modes by supporting research, coordination, construction, maintenance, and R&D. And since I introduced that bill, we've made great progress.

In February, I offered an amendment to the surface transportation bill. My amendment would triple funding for ferries, and I'm proud to say that my amendment passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. Today it is part of the Senate's SAFE-TEA bill.

I've also fought for our passenger rail system. As you know, opponents of Amtrak like the Bush Administration have been trying to bankrupt the railroad. That will hurt the people of our state. After all, Washington has made a major investment in Amtrak and we want to see our investment protected, our region treated fairly, and our people well-served.

Over the last two years, I've been successful in my amendments to keep Amtrak operating for everyone in our state who relies on it. And this year we've certainly got another battle on our hands. Amtrak's critics are as determined as ever, and they're fighting hard. Last month, a House committee agreed to the President's request of $900 million, and that would mean certain bankruptcy for Amtrak. I'm very concerned that after all their years of under-funding, the House and the White House may finally get what they've been hoping for. I'll continue to fight, but we've got an uphill battle on our hands.

Next, I want to turn to the one bill that will have the biggest impact on everything you do – and everything I can fund – over the next six years. Some call it the surface transportation bill. Some call it the TEA-21 reauthorization. I call it the jobs bill – because it will create jobs and spark economic growth throughout the country.

I've always looked on it as an opportunity to meet growing needs and to create jobs. In the Senate, I worked to pass a very strong bill that provides $318 billion over six years. Our bill is projected to create over 2 million new jobs. Our bill increases all federal transit programs by 28 percent. And it targets extra help to small, urbanized communities. It's a solid, bipartisan jobs bill.

The White House, however, thinks the Senate bill is too big. The President originally said he would veto any transportation bill over $256 billion. The White House turned up the pressure, and its members in the House of Representatives followed suit.

On April 2nd, the House took up their version of the highway bill. There was an opportunity for every member of the House to show they care about transportation and to vote for the $318 billion we got in the Senate.

And what happened? It was defeated. A no-vote on that bill was clearly against our state's interests. It was a vote against a higher investment in transportation. It was a vote against more jobs. It was a vote against more help for all of our communities.

Instead, of passing our $318 billion bill – the House passed a much smaller bill -- $275 billion. And let me tell you, there's a big difference between those two bills for our state. The House bill means Washington will get $700 million less. And it means we won't get the 33,000 new jobs the Senate bill provides.

So the House bill falls short, but even that was too big an investment for this White House. Since April, we've tried to move the bill forward, but we've been stuck because House Republicans and White House can't agree with each other.

Their delays are costing us jobs. We're now on our fifth temporary extension. Those small extensions make it much more difficult for communities to plan for big transportation projects. And it makes it much harder for states to plan and finance big projects that take years to build. There has been a little movement on this lately because of the pressure the White House is feeling. The House conferees have proposed $284 billion in guaranteed funding and $299 billion in contract authority.

I'm hearing that the White House may be willing to accept that. It's a step in the right direction – but still far less than what we need. Here's the bottom line. We have transportation needs in every corner of our state, and we need a transportation bill that will fund them.

We've done the right thing in the Senate – now the House and the White House need to get the message. They are shortchanging our communities and creating few jobs. They need to feel the pressure from all of you that a weak transportation bill is not acceptable. They need to come to the table and agree to what we've already done in the Senate. If they keep obstructing, then we'll be looking at another extension – fewer jobs – and more lost opportunities for our state.

So friends – other people may not understand why public transportation is so important – but all of us do – and together we can get the resources we need to keep moving our state forward. In closing, I want to wish you a productive conference and I want to thank you for helping our communities make progress. I’m proud to be your partner in the United States Senate, and I know that together we can create jobs, help our people, and make Washington state a better place to live.