just say no
Gov. Bobby Jindal, after high-profile criticism, says no to federal money for high-speed rail system
by Bill Barrow, The Times-Picayune
Friday August 21, 2009, 5:15 PM
AP file photoIn this image from video, Gov. Bobby Jindal on Feb. 24 delivers from Baton Rouge the Republican Party’s official response to President Barack Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress. In the speech, Jindal mocked components of Obama’s stimulus plan, including grants for light rail systems like one the Jindal administration recently considered to connect New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
Two days after a national commentator mocked Gov. Bobby Jindal for considering tapping federal stimulus money to build a light rail system between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, the governor’s transportation secretary wrote to President Barack Obama’s administration saying the idea is scrapped.
“Please be advised that the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development will not be applying for the High Speed AARA funds,” state transportation chief William Ankner wrote to his federal counterpart, Secretary Ray LaHood. Ankner was referring to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Ankner, a Jindal appointee, told LaHood that Louisiana could not operate the system without an annual operating loss of $18 million per year.
In February, while delivering the Republican Party’s nationally televised response to the president’s first congressional address, Jindal mocked several components of the Democratic administration’s federal stimulus package, including grants for rail systems.
MSNBC host Keith Olbermann featured Jindal this week during his “Worst Persons in the World” segment after published reports detailing that Ankner’s agency was investigating the possibility of applying for the rail grants.
Earlier this month, Ankner deputy Tom Atkinson told The Associated Press that the state envisioned a rail line opened by 2013.
“We think we will have a ridership level to sustain the service and make it grow,” said the acting assistant secretary for public works, hurricane and flood protection and intermodal transportation.
Atkinson said officials at the time contemplated four to eight daily round trips, with riders paying $10 to $12 each way between the two cities. He said then that he planned to submit a recommendation to Ankner by Sept. 1, with the secretary deciding whether to forward it to Jindal.
Olbermann used the story to cast Jindal as a hypocrite for criticizing the stimulus plan.
A Jindal spokeswoman on Friday cast the issue as one that played out well below the governor’s pay grade. “An employee at the transportation department was preparing options for the possible use of federal money, but this idea was not even vetted by the department’s secretary and the department will not submit an application on it,” Melissa Sellers said. “It would not be a good use of taxpayer money.”
Ankner offered a similar explanation to The Times-Picayune: “We never applied. We had sent a pre-application to preserve the option for us to apply. Once I reviewed the materials, it was obvious to me it didn’t make any sense for us to apply, and this would not be a good use of taxpayer dollars.”
Jindal was the subject of skewering earlier this month by Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart, who took aim at the governor for giving local officials giant checks signed by Jindal but representing federal grant money that the governor does not control.