Infrastructure bill to be focal point

Mirror file photo by Gary M. Baranec U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, who announced his retirement Tuesday, chats with supporter Mike McLanahan as his father, Bud, looks on after Shuster won the 2016 general election. Shuster, who is ending a 17-year house career and more than four decades of a Shuster serving in the seat, says he hopes to spend his final year on a massive national infrastructure bill.

U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-9th District, announced his intention Tuesday to step down at the end of his term, ending a 17-year House career and a more than four decades of a Shuster in the seat.

Shuster’s announcement, first reported by the Washington Examiner, ends speculation on his 2018 plans. In an interview with the conservative outlet and a public statement shortly afterward, the veteran congressman said he hopes to spend his final year on a massive national infrastructure bill.

“It has been one of my life’s greatest honors to serve and represent the citizens of the 9th District for 17 years. It has also been a tremendous privilege to have been selected by my congressional colleagues to be chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for the last five years,” Shuster said in a written statement. “I am proud of the legislation the committee has passed into law, most with bipartisan votes. This is my final year as chairman, and we have much still to do.”

A Shuster spokesman did not respond to a message seeking further comment from the congressman.

Political observers and local GOP figures had speculated for months on Shuster’s future. After fighting off tough primary challenges in 2014 and 2016, some had wondered whether he would join a wave of fellow Republicans in stepping down.

Shuster seemed to cool the speculation in November, when he told Washington news outlet The Hill: “My intention is to stick around.” His decision not to has already sent waves through local politics, with potential successors considering their options and contacting allies.

Shuster’s hope for an infrastructure bill caps a career spent primarily on transportation issues. As head of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Shuster pushed — with varying degrees of success — for funding and reforms in aviation, highways and waterways. He shepherded a federal water projects bill into law in 2014 and spent recent months seeking to privatize the nation’s air-traffic control system.

His job atop the committee was set to end at the end of this term, with internal rules limiting committee chairs to six years. Had Shuster run again and won, he could have shifted into a new committee chairmanship elsewhere.

His focus on transportation continued a family legacy: His father, Rep. Bud Shuster, was a longtime power player in infrastructure, securing funding for allies and for his own district in an era when congressional earmarks were more widely available. The elder Shuster drew credit for securing approval and money for I-99, the highway that bears his name.

The younger Shuster drew broad support — including campaign donations — from transportation and related industries for his work in the House. His ties to donors sometimes drew scrutiny and condemnation, including when he was revealed to be dating a lobbyist for an airline industry group whose proposals he backed.

A 2018 infrastructure bill would represent an important legislative success for Shuster and the Trump administration, which has listed transport improvements among its key goals. Specifics on the $1 trillion plan remain scarce, but administration officials have suggested it would involve regulation cuts and a bigger role for private companies.

“As I look forward to the future, I have had a lot to contemplate as to how to best serve my constituents and the American people over the next year,” Shuster said in his announcement. “Rather than focusing on a re-election campaign, I thought it wiser to spend my last year as chairman focusing 100 percent on working with President Trump and my Republican and Democratic colleagues in both chambers to pass a much needed infrastructure bill to rebuild America.”

Shuster has not yet discussed his post-Congress plans, but former state Sen. Robert Jubelirer said he will likely use his transportation knowledge and connections in any future career.

“From my vantage point, I would expect Bill to end up in a top-notch transportation company where he would be a valuable asset,” Jubelirer said. “He’ll know all the ins and outs, and he’ll get his phone calls returned.”

Jubelirer said Shuster’s desire to pass a final infrastructure bill is a worthy goal, and one that Shuster is in a position to pursue.

“Bill is a solid member of Congress, a respected member of Congress,” Jubelirer said. “He will retire as someone who got things done. He will go out with his head held high.”

Jubelirer, who once served as the state’s lieutenant governor, said he was surprised to hear of Shuster’s decision.

Marty Marasco, retired executive director of the Altoona-Blair County Development Corp., said he was also surprised by Shuster’s announcement.

“It’s kind of a shocker when you think about it,” Marasco said.

Like Jubelirer, Marasco said he thinks Shuster will find another job after wrapping up his career as a lawmaker.

“I’m sure he’ll end up in the private sector somewhere … or maybe as a lobbyist,” Marasco said.

As for Shuster’s desire to work with Trump on infrastructure legislation, Marasco offered his praise and pointed to the I-99 corridor, which the younger Shuster has predicted as a future center of economic growth.

“Once the infrastructure is in place, it gives you a future to build on,” Marasco said. “And if Bill is going to devote all his time to that effort, hopefully some of that effort will come back to benefit our community.”

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