House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ranking member John Mica knew the value of good transit.
“I became a mass transit fan because it’s so much more cost effective than building a highway,” he told PBS in 2009. “Also, it’s good for energy, it’s good for the environment – and that’s why I like it.”
Flash forward to February 2012. Mica is now chair of the committee, and he and his colleagues in the House have delivered a transportation bill that is bad for the environment and very bad for transit. Instead of receiving a dedicated share of the federal gas tax, as has been the case for three decades, transit would be expected to survive with an infusion from the treasury — with no guarantee of anything after that.
Mica defended the proposal vigorously. “The transit community, who has no source of revenue, is demanding that they stay and get a share of the trust fund, which, one, they don’t contribute to, and two, the trust fund is not going anywhere,” Mica told reporters. “If anything, it’s going to go down in its revenue as vehicles switch out to alternative fuels.”
Sure doesn’t sound like the words of a “transit fan.”
Mica used to be the premier pro-transit Republican in the House. Not anymore. That title now belongs to Ohio’s Steve LaTourette or Illinois’s Robert Dold, who have voiced the most resistance within their party to anti-transit measures in the House transportation bill. So how did ranking member Mica, who was one of his Democratic Chairman’s closest allies and biggest supporters, turn into Chairman Mica, enemy of transit?
We approached Mica’s office for this story and have yet to hear back. But it’s easy to see how the shifting landscape of transportation politics would affect a pro-transit Republican in a leadership position, like Mica. The T & I chair is now stuck between a rock (the intransigent GOP base) and a hard place (the declining power of the federal gas tax).