On Thursday we participated in a media conference call with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Deputy Director of the National Economic Council Jason Furman. The first portions of our coverage:
Media asked questions on the subject of the economic stimulus bill:
…Operator: We go to the line of Jim Leach from Springfield, Illinois. Please state your media affiliation and your question.
Jim Leach: WMAY Radio in Springfield. Mr. Secretary, good to talk to you again. How are you?
Ray LaHood: Thank you Jim. Good to talk to you.
Jim Leach: Uh, two part question. If you could, one, elaborate on the situation with Illinois given our governmental turmoil here and also news of this massive budget defecit we’re dealing with. How prepared, is your sense, that we are to capitalize on some of these when we need matching funds and are we really in a position to do that? And also if you could address, are you doing any personal lobbying of your former, uh, colleagues on the hill, especially in the Republican caucus, to try to get their support for the stimulus package…?
…Ray LaHood: Well first of all Jim, I met with Governor Quinn. Uh, he was in Washington a couple of days ago. He and I had a very good meeting. Uh, I appreciate the approach that he’s taking. Uh, he knows that, uh, that our state can benefit. We have not funded, uh, very few if any road projects in the last two or three years. There are a number of projects that can be funded. Uh, as I think most of all of you know, uh, at the moment there is gon.. not gonna have to be any match on this. And so I know that the governor has talked about further down the road in terms of his infrastructure program. But there’ll be no shortage of projects that will be submitted, uh, from Illinois. Uh, and if they meet the criteria and meet the standards and, uh, are ready to go they will be considered along with, uh, all those from the other forty nine state. And uh, and so, we uh, you know, we feel that uh, you know, the governor and his people, have projects, uh, that will be ready to go and, uh, they’ll be considered, uh, like, like all the other states. I’m sorry Jim. What was your other question?
Jim Leach: …Doing any personal lobbying of Republicans on the hill, uh, given your, uh, affiliation with them and your contact with them in the past? Did you try to get their support for this?
Ray LaHood: …I’ve had senators call me, uh, with questions that they have because the, the bill is moving rather quickly, uh, through the senate. And I, what, whatever opportunity I have I try and test the temperatures of these senators. Uh, look it, uh, I, I’m a part of the, the Obama team here. I’m a part of a team of people that wants to see this passed and, uh, and so, I’m doing what I can, uh, to, uh, to be, uh, helpful in, in trying to make sure that it gets passed through the senate…
…Operator: …We go to the line of Alvin Reid from St. Louis, Missouri. Please state your affiliation and question.
Alvin Reid: Uh, St. Louis American. And Secretary, uh, LaHood, especially with the transportation and infrastructure projects, what kind of minority participation plan will be part of the recovery act, if any? Or, or how will that will be approached as, uh, these projects are decided?
Ray LaHood: Well, you know what? That’s a, that’s a point that I had not really considered and, uh, if possible, Amy, uh, if we can get back to him I’d rather do that than give an answer where I don’t really know thoroughly enough, uh, what the answer is. So, uh, and, and Amy, we can help get an answer back, so, uh, I’d rather leave it that way if I could.
Amy Brundage: Sure. Alvin, we’ll get right back to you after the call.
Operator: Our next question is from the line of Martin Ross from Bloomington, Illinois. Please state your affiliation and question.
Martin Ross: Uh, Illinois Farm Week. Uh, Mr. Secretary, uh, Illinois you know has a big emphasis on integrated inter modal transportation etcetera. To what extent will the team be looking at regional, particularly regional, but also larger interstate, uh, uh, national benefits, uh, economic benefits, uh, when triaging some of these projects? And then also, uh, Mr. Furman, if I could, uh, uh, flood control was mentioned. Are we talking about some upper Mississippi, uh, rehabilitation, uh, renovation efforts?
Ray LaHood: Well Martin the answer to your question is, is that these, these projects will be judged on are they ready to go, can people be put to work immediately, uh, do they meet all the criteria. Some of ’em will be regional in nature. Uh, and, you know, almost, in dealing with these I mean I think, uh, many of them will be regional in nature. Uh, probably not every one, but uh, we know that, uh, there’ll be multi-jurisdictional, uh, uh, they’ll be, uh, intrastate and interstate, and uh, and so, uh, I think you can count on us really taking a careful look at how quickly can people go to work, how quickly can the people spend the money, the, the states, and uh, and some of those obviously will be, uh, collaborative efforts…
…Operator:…We go to the line of Brandy Donaldson from Moline, Illinois. Please state your affiliation and question.
Brandy Donaldson: Hi, this is Brandy Donaldson. My affiliation is the Rock Island Argus Moline Dispatch newspaper. Um, Secretary LaHood, um, hello from the quad cities.
Ray LaHood: Hello.
Brandy Donaldson: And, uh, my question is: Once the money has been allocated to the states will there be any sort of mandates or checks put in place to make sure each state is spending the money in the way the plan calls for them to?
Ray LaHood: Absolutely. One of the things that the President has emphasized to all of us is the idea of transparency. People will be able to, uh, click into a web site to, to really look and pay attention. We will be, too. We’re gonna hold the governors’ feet to the fire on this. The money has to be spent, uh, effectively, efficiently in a way that reflects the idea that, uh, people are working and uh, there’ll be lots of access to, um, benchmarks on how the money is spent, when it is spent, how many people are working, and, uh, plenty, plenty of transparency on this. I guarantee you. And uh, this is one of the hallmarks of this administration, and uh, all of us that work on the Obama team have gotten the message on this. And we certainly have here at DOT because, uh, a good share of this money is gonna be spent out of, uh, our offices. And we want to make sure the taxpayers and the American people know that it’s being done in the right way, according to the way it should be, and, and that they have access to that information…
Operator:…Greg Hines (sp) from Chicago, Illinois. Again, please state your affiliation and question.
Greg Hines: Hi, Greg Hines with Greater Chicago Business. Mr. Secretary could you talk a little bit about the Amtrak money, particularly the two billion that’s in at least the senate version of the bill for high speed rail? Uh, what that might do for the Midwest as opposed to the Northeast corridor which traditionally has gotten the lion’s share of Amtrak money.
Ray LaHood: Well first let me say that this administration is, uh, is very committeed to Amtrak. I was just with the Vice President in Laurel, Maryland, uh just outside of the city of Washington, uh, earlier today at an Amtrak station, uh, that needs, that is in need of great repair. Not really the tracks, just the station, so that people can, uh, get up the steps, have a platform, uh that’s decent to stand on and to, and u
h, so uh. The idea that, uh, this money will be used for Amtrak is certainly a priority. And uh, something that, again, we’ll be looking very carefully at, uh, and not just in one particular part of the country. We’re gonna be working very closely, uh, to make sure that, uh, that the states that have really made the commitment to Amtrak, uh, certainly we know a number of states have, and more recently states have gotten more involved. But uh, we, we know that the Northeast corridor has made a huge commitment. States like Illinois have made a huge commitment. And uh, and so we’re gonna look carefully, and. And so the answer Greg really is that, uh, some of it will be spent on, uh, perhaps some infrastructure, but some of it will be spent on facilities like where the Vice President and I were at today so that people have a place to board and, and uh, and it’s uh, comports with, you know, the kind of service that people want. And, and so, uh, I, I think you can be assured that, that uh, the Amtrak money, uh, is a priority, not only just, uh, uh, in this, in this bill. But, uh, for the long haul there’s gonna be a pretty high priority. Congress passed an Amtrak bill, uh, last year. Every senator that I met with, before my confirmation, emphasized to me the importance of Amtrak and high speed rail. And it will be a priority of the, of President Obama’s administration and of the Department of Transportation, not only in the stimulus, but uh, but longer term…
…Operator:…That does conclude our conference for today…