Happening Now

What The Election Results Mean for Trains

November 10, 2022

Votes are still being tabulated from this week’s midterm election, and it’s still too early to answer many of the big questions over who will set the agenda for the 118th Congress. However, Rail Passengers’ staff has been sifting through the election results, and we’re already seeing some important trends emerge to provide guideposts for next year’s advocacy efforts.

Votes are still being tabulated from this week’s midterm election, and it’s still too early to answer many of the big questions over who will set the agend for the 118th Congress. However, Rail Passengers Association staff has been sifting through the election results, and we’re already seeing some important trends emerge to provide guideposts for next year’s advocacy efforts.

Transit Comes Through on the Ballot (With a Few Big Exceptions)

Getting voters to approve additional funding for transportation infrastructure is usually a slam dunk once they make it onto the ballot, and that trend continued this week: the American Public Transportation Association reported that 29 of 37 transit-related measures on the ballot passed muster with voters. However, we also saw two big transit-friendly initiatives get rejected by Florida voters, which will stymie efforts to grow commuter rail in the Sunshine State.

Arlington, VA – Metro & TransportationAPPROVED: voters approved a $52 million bond for transportation and transit, with more than $42 million going towards Arlington County’s share of Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) Metrorail capital improvement program.

Boulder County, CO – Issue 1CAPPROVED: voters overwhelmingly approved an extension of an existing sales tax to continue funding countywide transportation improvements and maintenance work. Proposed projects include additional Bus Rapid Transit lines and upgrades to rural transit service.

Massachusetts – Question 1APPROVED: voters approved a 4% tax on income over $1 million to fund the repair and maintenance of roads, bridges, and public transportation, as well as public education. While the specific allocation of funds will be subject to committee-level work done by the Massachusetts’ State Legislature, Governor-elect Maura Healey (D) has outlined a detailed plan for transit and passenger rail in her campaign platform. The “Healey Plan” includes many goals previously endorsed by Rail Passengers, including the introduction of regional rail service (as opposed to “commuter rail”) and construction of an East-West Rail Corridor.

New Bedford and Fall River, Massachusetts – MBTA Expansion – APPROVED: residents of New Bedford and Fall River overwhelmingly voted to join the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, a precondition for launching service on the South Coast Rail line.

Hillsborough County, FL – Transportation Sales Tax – REJECTED: voters rejected a 1-cent sales tax that would’ve funded road repairs and added new transit options. (Editor’s note: thanks to reader “Concerned USF Fan” for letting us know that the ballot measure was reinstated by an appeals court ruling. Here’s hoping it’s a rebuilding year for the Bulls.)

Orange County, FL – Transportation System Surtax – REJECTED: voters rejected a 1-cent increase in the sales tax for transportation purposes, with 45% of revenues dedicated to transit. The SunRail regional passenger rail system would’ve been a major beneficiary.

Sacramento County, CA – Measure A – VOTES STILL BEING COUNTED: the “no” votes are leading on a transportation sales tax to fund the maintainace and construction of roads, as well as the expansion of the Sacramento Regional Transit light rail system. Among other projects, the measure directs $80 million to the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission for the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) service. This one is still too early to call, with the next update scheduled for Nov. 11th.

San Francisco, CA – Proposition LAPPROVED: voters extended a half-cent sales tax for transportation, with transit getting the lion’s share of revenue. The plan calls for 41% of funds to go towards maintaining and enhancing Muni, BART, Caltrain and local ferries; 23% for major upgrades and expansion of rail and bus transit services; 11% for paratransit services; and only 19% going to roads and highways.

Republicans Have Inside Track to Gain Control of the House

While there are weeks of ballot counting ahead of us, election analysts are giving House Republicans a narrow edge in the race to control the U.S. House of Representatives.

If the GOP does gain control of the House, it's likely to govern with a razor-thin margin. That matters because it will give House Republicans an extremely narrow mandate, with members from the center and the right flanks of the GOP Caucus fighting for control of the party’s policy platform. Disappointment with the size of Republican midterm gains — which are traditionally much larger for the party not in the White House — may even lead to a shakeup of GOP leadership.

We predict this means there will be no appetite for trying to roll back any of the funding elements of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL). That’s good news for passenger rail, one of the modes that saw the biggest relative increase from the BIL’s passage.

Of course, there is an outside chance that Democrats retain control, in which case none of the above applies.

Stay tuned!

Voters Reward House Republicans Who Backed Bipartisan Infrastructure Law

The BIL includes the word “bipartisan” in its title, but most of the Republican votes for the Democratic-led legislation came from supporters in the Senate.

However, there were six House Republican Members that broke with their party to vote “yes” on the BIL. All six represenatives were rewarded by their constituents and will return to D.C. for the 118th Congress:

  • Rep. Don Bacon, NE
  • Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, NY
  • Rep. Chris Smith, NJ
  • Rep. Jeff Van Drew, NJ
  • Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, PA
  • Rep. Andrew Garbarino, NY

We've always known, however, that infrastructure investment -- and especially passenger rail investment -- had the potential to be a truly bipartisan issue. In fact, in our independent polling released in March, we found that:

* 78% of Americans support passenger rail investment, including 95% of Democrats and 61% of Republicans

* 60% of those surveyed would have supported spending $100 billion for passenger rail in the infrastructure plan – one-third more than the $66 billion guaranteed in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. And nearly half – 42% -- would have gone even higher

* Two thirds of those surveyed think there should be a “National” railroad plan. In addition, 66% of Americans also think there should be a National High Speed Rail plan.

* Some 64% of Americans support the idea of using tax dollars to pay for upkeep on tracks and trainsets – roughly similar to the number of Americans who support using Federal dollars to fund the U.S. air traffic control system, and much higher than the 47% who think Federal dollars should be used to maintain airports.

Rail Passengers applauds these Members of Congress for standing up for sensible infrastructure investment, and we’re pleased their constituents saw it the same way.

Rise of the Amtrak Republican?

It was a bad night for House Democrats in the New York Metroplex. Democratic Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney (NY) and Tom Malinowski (NJ), both members of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, were defeated by challengers Mike Lawler and Tom Kean, respectively. Representatives-elect Lawler and Kean will be joined by several other New York Republicans that won close contests for open seats.

If the GOP does win control of the House, the red surge in the New York Metro could be a windfall for Amtrak, which has seen some of its strongest GOP support come from Republicans representing Northeast Corridor districts (see: above story). These NEC reps could also influence recent oversight efforts we’ve seen coming from Republican leadership on the T&I Committee.

Rail Passengers will make sure to connect with these incoming Members of Congress during our annual Rail Passengers’ Day on the Hill in March.

Senate Too Close to Call

The race for control of the Senate remains too close to call. While Democratic Senator Mark Kelly (AZ) appears to have a slight edge, fellow Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (NV) is trailing challenger Adam Laxalt. For both races, it’s likely to take a few more days for election officials and volunteers to certify the results. Meanwhile, the Georgia Senate race between Senator Raphael Warnock and challenger Herschel Walker is already headed to a December 8th runoff.

Democrats would need to win two out of these three contests to retain control of the Senate.

This contest will likely have a big impact on the upcoming budget negotiations, with Democrats likely to support higher funding levels for Biden Administration priorities. While passenger train capital funding is largely locked-in by the BIL, Amtrak and transit operations are still highly dependent on annual appropriations. That operating number will have an impact on everything from onboard staffing levels to the ability of Amtrak to build the administrative capacity it needs effectively invest BIL capital dollars.

As always, Rail Passengers will keep you up to date with all the relevant passenger train news as soon as it’s confirmed!