Tipton’s top aide says RFTA shouldn’t panic about grant | AspenTimes.com

Tipton’s top aide says RFTA shouldn’t panic about grant

politico.comScott Tipton

ASPEN – It is too soon to say whether Congressman-elect Scott Tipton will support a $24 million grant for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, his chief of staff said recently.

“Congressman Tipton was elected with an understanding there needs to be a cut in federal spending,” said Mike Hesse, who Tipton appointed earlier this month to head his staff. “On the other hand, we have to use common sense on these things.”

One of Tipton’s goals is to get Colorado’s congressional delegation to work together to secure federal funding for projects in the state, then to ensure the funding is spread equitably to where it is needed, Hesse said.

Tipton is a Republican from Cortez who defeated incumbent Democrat John Salazar. Tipton hinged part of his campaign on the need to reduce the federal deficit.

RFTA board members expressed concerns at their meeting Thursday that funding for the agency’s expansion could be imperiled by Tipton. They voted to write him a letter explaining the need for the project.

RFTA applied with the Federal Transportation Agency (FTA) for the grant. The funding is included in President Obama’s budget for fiscal year 2011 as part of a recommendation from the FTA. The U.S. House has approved a budget with the appropriation, according to RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship. The appropriation is also in a draft version of the Senate budget, which hasn’t been voted on yet.

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There is a chance, under various scenarios, that the new Congress will take up the 2011 budget. If so, RFTA’s grant could be reopened to congressional scrutiny.

After learning about RFTA’s concerns, Hesse said board members should settle down “before people light their hair on fire.”

First, he said, it is unknown if Tipton will even get a chance to vote on the 2011 budget. Second, the congressman-elect hasn’t had a chance to review the project during the whirlwind effort since Nov. 2 to prepare to take office, which will occur in January.

“It’s very early to be dealing with ‘what ifs,'” Hesse said.

An important first step will be for RFTA officials to meet with Tipton to discuss the project, he said. Hesse himself is familiar with the bus agency and its expansion plans because he served on the staff of former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis. Help was needed from McInnis earlier this decade to secure the Rio Grande Railroad right-of-way as well as some RFTA funding.

Hesse acknowledged that the RFTA grant isn’t the type of ear mark project or pork barrel appropriation that many freshmen Republicans would want to kill. RFTA’s application was thoroughly reviewed by the FTA, and the proposal has to meet various criteria.

Going through that process “probably bodes well” for RFTA’s grant, Hesse said.

No meeting has been set yet between RFTA officials and Tipton.

scondon@aspentimes.com