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3 p.m. on Friday

Transportation Conference keynote Janet Kavinoky is looking into reauthorization’s future

It’s 3 p.m. on a November Friday, and Janet Kavinoky is waiting for a copy of transportation and energy legislation penned by House Republicans to cross her desk. It was the kind of week that hinted of movement on the long-overdue transportation reauthorization. And that would mean that Kavinoky would have some news to bring to Maine as keynote speaker at the Maine Transportation Conference, Thursday, December 1, at the Augusta Civic Center.
 
It certainly has been a busy week for Kavinoky, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s advocate on transportation and energy issues. The Senate voted down a pared down jobs bill the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats had been championing. Earlier in the week, the Chamber had penned a letter calling for just that.
 
“We spoke against it, because it is a one-time investment that would be paid for by a tax increase on small business,” said Kavinoky. Instead of a “one-time shot,” she said, the Chamber is pushing for a multi-year bill that would create some certainty in transportation funding where there has been precious little stability lately.
 
The Chamber, she said, did like the Republicans’ “alternative jobs plan” that had been defeated in the Senate earlier in the week. (That plan was voted down 47-53, carried by the majority of Senate Democrats. Maine Senator Olympia Snowe also voted against the measure.)
 
Kavinoky said the Chamber liked several of the pro-business provisions in the bill, including a relaxation of environmental rules the Chamber believed could have sped up transportation project delivery.
 
She also takes the recent back-and-forth on jobs and funding as a hopeful sign Congress may at last be ready to begin the marketplace bartering that will eventually lead to long-term reauthorization legislation after more than two years of temporary extensions. She was heartened to hear House Speaker John Boehner say earlier in the week that Republicans are looking for money to help cover the projected transportation funding gap – without a tax increase – to keep funding at current levels.
 
‘Influencing the trajectory’
 
In the middle of the interview, Kavinoky stops briefly to tweet a message about a letter to the House majority leadership calling for movement on a multi-year transportation bill, a letter signed by 123 House Republicans. She doesn’t have a large Twitter following, but the minute her message is out, several people “retweet” the message and the news gains momentum among “transportation geeks” like a snowball rolling down a hill. (You can follow Kavinoky on Twitter @JanetKavinoky.)
 
Ultimately, getting the word out and encouraging those in the business community to get involved in the transportation funding debate is at the heart of Kavinoky’s job as the Chamber’s executive director for transportation and infrastructure. Her address at the Maine Transportation Conference is titled “Charting the Course,” and she said it will offer analysis about “what is going on in Washington and how that applies to states and how people in Maine can influence the trajectory” of the debate.
 
She spins out the possible scenarios depending on a range of factors. If all continues on the current course, there is hope for a long-term bill that would fund transportation for at least the next two years. And further down the line, after the presidential election is behind us, perhaps legislators will address transportation funding needs in a more substantive, less stop-gap manner. That would, the Chamber hopes, include raising the gas tax for the first time in 18 years to address a staggering $624 billion funding gap for U.S. roads and bridges.Kavinoky said a deciding factor will be if businesses and individuals advocate for a long-term bill in legislators’ home districts. And she said it was just that kind of hometown pressure after the Congressional stalemate shutdown of the Federal Aviation Authority this summer, that has gotten the discussion going.
 
“A few days after that, I think they saw that shutting down the FAA and cutting off funding and putting people out of work didn’t go over so well at home,” said Kavinoky.
 
While the trajectory appears to be on an upward path toward reauthorization, Kavinoky admits that could be temporary – all the more reason for constituents to keep up the pressure on lawmakers at home.
 
“These things in Washington can change on a dime,” she said. “Still, it’s 3 p.m. on Friday and I’m feeling it today.”

 

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