Successful Federal Lobby Day 2023 Underscores Association’s Reach Extends Far Beyond California
By Arianna Smith
The Association traveled to Washington, D.C. for Federal Lobby Day on behalf of Association membership on September 19 and 20, 2023. Over the course of the two-day visit, a delegation of Association members attended over twenty meetings with Congressional members, staff, and federal leadership. The delegation also met with leadership at the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).
The Federal Lobby Day has been an important annual event for the Association since 2015. Over the past eight years, Association members have significantly advanced federal engagement and have worked to build and maintain strong relationships with California’s Congressional representatives, who now solicit the Association’s input on major federal legislation, including for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), commonly known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Numerous Association agencies received grants from the measure.
“Our 2023 Federal Lobby Day clearly illustrated that the Association’s reach extends far beyond California,” said Michael Pimentel, Executive Director of the Association. “Members of Congress and their staff rely on us to keep them updated about issues that affect the California transit agencies in the districts that they represent. We used this year’s lobby day to educate our representatives on the critical role that transit plays in economic growth, climate change resilience, and equity. We also made clear that we need federal funding and key policy changes to ensure California transit agencies can continue to provide and constantly improve our critically important services.”
This year, attendees from the Association included select members of the Executive Committee and Federal Legislative Committee and our full advocacy team. Eight members constituted a Northern California Delegation, along with Federal Legislative Committee Chair Georgia Gann Dohrmann of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Association Legislative Advocate Matt Robinson, and Legislative & Regulatory Advocate Alchemy Graham. Seven members a Southern California Delegation, including the Federal Legislative Committee’s Vice Chair, Chris Orlando of the North County Transit District, and Association Executive Director Michael Pimentel.
Both delegations had the opportunity to meet with the member of Congress and staff who represent their agencies, employees, and riders. At each of these meetings, Association members spent time building rapport with our representatives about the importance of IIJA funding, federal ZEB funding, and the concern that California is not receiving its fair share of federal competitive grant opportunities, including the Low or No Emission Grant program, considering the state’s population size and geography. California receives approximately 15% of the Low-No funds, even though it is the only state in the nation that requires ZEB adoption under the 2018 Innovative Clean Transit regulation, with the goal of transitioning all transit buses in the state to zero-emission technology by 2040. Association members also emphasized the need for California representatives to engage on this disparity with the Federal Transit Administration.
Meetings with representatives also included discussions on the longstanding legal issue whereby the US Department of Labor has repeatedly argued that transit agencies’ implementation of California’s Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act (PEPRA) violates the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964, and that USDOL cannot certify federal transit grant applications submitted by transit agencies subject to PEPRA. While each round of litigation has consistently resulted in District Court rulings in favor of California, an appeal of the most recent favorable ruling is ongoing and a resolution is expected in 2024. Most representatives asked that the Association provide periodic updates on the matter.
Finally, some meetings included discussions on recent statewide reform efforts on transit operations and California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Representatives repeatedly urged delegation members to provide information about requests for policy changes that are suitable for the next appropriations bill.
In addition to meeting with the offices of California’s Senators and House Representatives, the Association members also met with key representatives who Chair or sit on committees that consider transit policy issues and budget allocations.
A meeting of particular importance was with Democratic Representative Mike Quigley of Illinois, a member of the influential House Appropriations Committee and the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development. Among other duties, this subcommittee develops the budget for the US Department of Transportation, which goes toward the country’s transportation systems and infrastructure. Rep. Quigley expressed his interest in additional federal resources for local transit agencies and recognized the post-pandemic funding shortfalls across the country; critically, he acknowledged that transit agencies have mostly used up relief funding, and that additional funding support is necessary to keep transit systems running and improving as ridership levels recover. He also indicated interest in the Association’s successful 2023 California strategy to garner public and legislative support for transit funding and reasonable accountability measures at the national level. The Association is following up on this feedback, helping to secure the Association’s national relevance and unique opportunity to maximize California’s share of funds and policy outcomes.
Additionally, Association members met with the late Senator Dianne Feinstein’s staff shortly before her death. Senator Feinstein was a longtime champion of public transportation, and in 2022 her office helped secure nearly $2 billion in funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for priority transportation projects across California. Association membership has sent its condolences to the late Senator’s family, staff, and constituents.
As the Association continues to build engagement with federal leaders, that effort will include building a relationship with California’s new Senator Laphonza Butler, who was sworn into office on October 3. The Association will ensure that she and her staff are aware of our members’ duties, obligations, and priorities, as well as provide information about needed support for California’s transit agencies and riders.
Besides elected officials and their office staff, the Association delegation also met with the staff of several Congressional committees that are integral to transit budgets and operations. This included Committees in the Senate on Banking, Housing, and Urban Development; the Environment and Public Works; and Appropriations, as well as the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
While in Washington, the Association also took the opportunity to meet with leadership at APTA, of which the Association’s agencies are members. The Association reached out to help strengthen the partnership between organizations, and to ensure that California’s population and geographic needs are included in the national conversation.
Planning for the 2024 Federal Lobby Day is already underway. The Federal Legislative Committee is currently reviewing the Draft 2024 Federal Legislative Program, and the Executive Committee is expected to adopt it on November 14.