Fighting For Stimulus Funding
I joined Speaker Karen Bass and other colleagues on a bi-partisan trip to Washington DC earlier this week to meet officials from the new Administration and advocate for more funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill (aka Federal Stimulus Plan).
This year, it was nice to go back to DC and be briefed by familiar faces from California. For instance, I met with Jeff Bleich, a former Litigation Partner in the San Francisco office of Munger, Tolles & Olson and now Special Counsel to the President. I also met with Nancy Sutley, former Los Angeles Deputy Mayor for the Energy and Environment and now Chair of the White House Council for Environmental Quality. Nancy now serves as the principal environmental policy adviser to the President.
I was especially interested to hear from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack since I serve on the Agriculture Committee. Under Secretary Vilsack's leadership the USDA is working to promote a safe and nutritious food supply for all Americans and to end child hunger by 2015. The drought and the conditions of the Bay Delta are another issue on his radar (but not under his direct authority) and he feels that in order to better manage California’s water needs, we need to better maintain our forests to avoid the threat of future fires. Also, the Department will continue to fund research to mitigate invasive species and will work closely with Homeland Security to better train our border inspectors. Further, they are proactively trying to assist dairy farmers in this fiscal crisis and have created both internal and external working groups in an attempt to create price consistency and stability. Finally, they want to strengthen the organics program and continue to help those farmers who wish to transition to organics (good news for my bill AB1401). Secretary Vilsack believes there is a disconnect between food and agriculture and therefore plans to launch a "Know your farmer, know your food" campaign around the country. The Department will continue to grant awards to retrofit bio refineries, expand trade opportunities, and prioritize food safety.
On the subject of water, Undersecretary of Interior David Hayes spoke at length about the vortex of challenges facing the Bay Delta. He spoke about the $1 billion of stimulus funding for the Bureau of Reclamation to provide immediate and short term assistance to municipalities, delta by-pass projects, emergency pumping and the “two-gate” project supported by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (on track for completion next year). Hayes has visited California several times since his confirmation in May and was appointed by Secretary Salazar to be the lead for all California water issues.
I also enjoyed our meeting with Joel Szabat, Deputy Assistant Secretary at the US Department of Transportation. In his past life, Joel served as principal consultant to the California State Assembly. He reiterated that in the original Stimulus Plan, there was no funding set aside for high speed rail, but thanks to our President and his desire to build a "true world class high speed rail system," $8 billion was allocated for rail projects with the possibility of $4B going to California. Furthermore, and for the first time in history, the Secretary of Transportation has a discretionary pot of $1.5 billion for federal priority projects around the US. The President's new visions include 3 priorities:
- High Speed Rail: California is in the process of applying for funds and thanks to the passage of Prop. 1A, the $9.95B Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act in Nov 2008, California is well positioned in our efforts to receive substantial rail funding. (Check out www.hsr.ca.gov for more info)
- Livable and Sustainable Communities: there is no definable language at this moment but Joel anticipates working closely with Congress over the next 18 months to develop language to incorporate in the next transportation reauthorization bill. My bill, AB 338 (which is sitting on the Governor's desk as we speak waiting for his signature), allows local governments to use tax-increment financing for transit-oriented development to help create sustainable communities.
- Creating a National Infrastructure Bank to fund projects that will generate revenues to repay the loans.
And it was nice to catch up with Bay Area native Rosie Rios, our new US Treasurer (sworn in Aug. 2009). She will serve as an adviser to the current Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and is primarily responsible for matters of currency and coins. Her name and signature will be on the new dollar bill starting next year!