Senator talks transit, health care during Aspen stop | AspenTimes.com

Senator talks transit, health care during Aspen stop

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – U.S Sen. Michael Bennet experienced Aspen traffic late Monday afternoon and listened Tuesday to the urgings of local officials who are hoping to secure federal dollars for the Roaring Fork Valley’s bus system.

As for the traffic – he braced for a half-hour wait to get out of town, though it only took 15 minutes – the afternoon bottleneck is a legitimate traffic jam, albeit one with nice scenery, Bennet said.

The Entrance to Aspen, however, was not front and center during a City Hall stop Tuesday, where Bennet was briefed on RFTA’s operation and its hope to secure a $25 million federal grant to help institute Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, a streamlined valley bus system.

RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship also explained the transit agency’s current struggles to maintain routes and hold the line on fares at a time when sales tax revenues are lagging.

“Transit in general, and RFTA in particular, needs higher levels of [Federal Transit Administration] operating assistance,” Blankenship said.

There is “some recognition” in Washington that transit is a need throughout the country, and not just in urban areas, Bennet said. The cooperative nature of the multi-jurisdictional RFTA operation makes it an attractive model, he added.

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“Assuming we can get some rational priorities set in Washington, I think transit ought to be at the top of the list,” he said after the gathering.

But, Bennet added that he suspects health-care reform and the economy, not transit, will get the lion’s share of attention from his constituents in the coming month. He will visit 28 Colorado counties for some 78 appearances during the August recess.

Coloring every discussion, he said, is the $1.8 trillion national deficit.

The government needs to do what individual Americans have begun to do, Bennet told The Aspen Times – start saving money. As the economy recovers, government needs to avoid its usual course of action – spend money or give it back in tax breaks, he said, calling reduction of the deficit “a moral imperative.”

The senator said he has proposed managing the federal budget to hold the deficit in check at 3 percent of the gross domestic product.

Health-care reform, the topic of town hall meetings across Colorado and the country as lawmakers return to their home states, needs to focus on cost as much as coverage, Bennet contends.

“I think the focus in Washington really needs to be the cost question – how do we deliver quality care for less money,” he said.

Median income for American households has remained essentially flat for the past decade, while health-care costs have doubled, Bennet said.

“I don’t think we can sustain another decade like the one we just came out of,” he said. “Now people spend 20 percent of their income on health care; it’ll be 40 percent in not too long.”

janet@aspentimes.com