San Diego Union Tribune

February 14, 2005

Hybrid owner Issa backs bill giving such cars HOV lane pass

By Dana Wilkie

Not so fast: If you own one of the 33,627 hybrid vehicles now on California's roads, we'll forgive you if you thought you could drive it in the car-pool lane. But the cops probably won't.

Although California has a new law opening "high occupancy vehicle" lanes to hybrids with only one person in the car, Washington first must approve the plan.

Enter Rep. Darrell Issa, the proud owner of two hybrid vehicles. The Vista Republican is pushing a bill that would let California – and any other state with the same inclination – move forward with its plan to let solo hybrid drivers use the diamond lanes. At the moment, federal law only allows soloists in HOV lanes if they are driving natural gas or electric vehicles.

Issa's bill is identical to one that California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, plans to introduce in her chamber. But until President Bush signs one of them, best to keep the hybrid out of the HOV, or risk getting a $271 ticket.

Double duty: When he is not advocating for folks back in his district, Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham is pushing for the folks out here in D.C. For the folks who don't belong to organized labor unions, that is. The Republican congressman last autumn sent D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams a letter urging him to let non-union contractors compete to build the capital's new baseball stadium.

Why Cunningham's interest in a project so far from California? He is vice chairman of the D.C. Appropriations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. As such, he felt obligated to let the mayor know in his Oct. 18 letter of his strong opposition to "PLAs." For those of you out of the loop, that is a union-only "project labor agreement," which establishes the labor terms – such as wages, health benefits and workers' compensation arrangements – on a project.

Oh, and nine days later, Cunningham also got $700,000 in federal money for a system that helps authorities enforce High Occupancy Vehicle lanes. In San Diego.

Money makes for interesting alliances: Sixteen months ago, when Arnold Schwarzenegger made his maiden voyage to Washington as California's newly elected governor, some may recall that he stopped in to see California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat who campaigned against him in the 2003 recall election, and appeared in TV ads reminding voters about allegations that he groped women without their consent.

Water under the bridge, the governor-elect said after the two talked. To prove it, Schwarzenegger vowed to help Feinstein renew her federal ban on assault weapons, which was set to expire a year from that meeting.

"We will be working together like a jewel," he said.

His help was rather tardy in coming, as it turns out, and consisted largely of a single letter to President Bush asking for the extension. Much like the president – who also said he supported the ban's renewal – the governor never actively worked with Feinstein to win an extension, nor did he expend much political capital arguing for one. The assault weapons ban died last September.

When the federal issue is money, however, Schwarzenegger springs right into action. Faced with a projected $8.6 billion state budget shortfall, the governor is arm-in-arm with Feinstein as the two urge Bush to reimburse border states for the enormously expensive task – it comes to about $750 million a year in California – of jailing illegal immigrants who commit crimes.

Schwarzenegger didn't even wait for the president's budget to come out last week before writing Bush to ask for money. But as he did last year, Bush proposed eliminating the entire reimbursement for jailing criminal illegal immigrants.

Perhaps in the future, Feinstein should look elsewhere for allies.

Coming soon: Gov. Schwarzenegger will be here Thursday to chat with California's congressmen and congresswomen about his agenda for the state. On the governor's mind? How California never gets its fair share of federal tax dollars these days. How to prevent military base closings in the state. And of course, redistricting – as in, the governor's plan to take the job of drawing legislative boundaries away from the California Legislature and give it to retired judges.

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