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Breakfast links: No respect in Congress


Image from the Republican Study Committee.
Conservatives want cuts to transit, DC: A group of ultra-conservative House Republicans has proposed deep budget cuts including the entire $150 million in capital funding for WMATA as well as the entire Amtrak budget, New Starts, and high-speed rail programs. (Huffington Post) ... The cuts also include $210 million in "general assistance" to DC, but it's not clear what they're talking about. (City Paper)

Top transportation Democrat a roads guy: The top democrat on the House's transportation committee likes building roads as a rural economic development tool. Fortunately, transit advocate Peter DeFazio, NYC's Jerry Nadler, and our own Eleanor Holmes Norton are 3 of 4 next-most-senior Democrats. (Transportation Nation)

Armed robbery on Metro last month: A witness has emerged to an armed robbery that took place on a train at Stadium-Armory station on December 23rd. Metro Transit Police has acknowledged the incident and said "the MTPD recently reassigned sworn officers out of administrative functions... into stations, trains and buses to better protect our customers." (Unsuck DC Metro)

Gray makes DMPED pick & others: Mayor Gray has picked a Deputy Mayor for Planning & Economic Development: Victor Hoskins, former Maryland secretary of housing and community development. Jeff Richardson from the Gertrude Stein Club will head up the GLBT office. (Post)

News from the Walmart front: Walmart got a big endorsement from Michelle Obama for their decision to reduce sodium and sugar levels in their store brand products. (Housing Complex) ... DC residents protested the entry of Walmart into the District in front of developer Dick Knapp's house last night. (Examiner) ... The retail giant bucked it's big-box image, opening a 3,500 square foot store on the University of Arkansas' campus. (Fayetteville Flyer via RPUS)

Hit and runs in the region: A bicyclist was struck by a driver on New Hampshire Avenue in Silver Spring. The driver left the scene, and the cyclist appears to be in relatively good condition. In Alexandria, a pedestrian was killed by a hit-and-run driver on King Street early this morning. (WUSA)

Kenilworth Ave to get sidewalks, bike lanes: A one-mile section of Kenilworth Avenue in Edmonston will be modified to make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists, adding sidewalks and bike lanes to both sides of the street. Yet designers have only said they will "try to accommodate" the town's request to include crosswalks at every intersection. How hard can it be? (Post)

Arlington improves traffic signal network: Arlington County will spend $4 million to install new traffic signal control systems that will enable the signal network to adjust timing based on real-time changes is traffic patterns. (Dr. Gridlock)

And...: Copenhagenize's Mikael Colville-Andersen talks about the folly of mandatory helmet laws and the importance of promoting cycling. (TheCityFix) ... Supreme Court Justice Elana Kagan is considering moving into the Logan Circle neighborhood. Does that make it officially gentrified? (14th & You) ... Montgomery County chose to spend $24 million on a new Metro parking garage instead of other developments that would promote transit use. (Transportation Nation)

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Erik Weber has been living car-free in the District since 2009. Hailing from the home of the nation's first Urban Growth Boundary, Erik has been interested in transit since spending summers in Germany as a kid where he rode as many buses, trains and streetcars as he could find. Views expressed here are Erik's alone. 

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Nice Quid Pro Quo on the Gertrude Stein Club Appointment, Mayor Gray.

by South Dakota Ave on Jan 21, 2011 10:04 am • linkreport

Transit-oriented development at the Glenmont Metro station is essentially forbidden, under current Montgomery County rules, because it will increase road congestion at the intersection of Randolph Road and Georgia Avenue.

by Ben Ross on Jan 21, 2011 10:10 am • linkreport

Correction:

... because the models used by county planners calculate that it will increase road congestion...

by Ben Ross on Jan 21, 2011 10:12 am • linkreport

Is it "hit and runs?" Or "hits and run?" Maybe "hits and runs?" Really, both terms are plural (unlike attorneys general), so maybe both words should be made plural.

by Tim on Jan 21, 2011 10:18 am • linkreport

Hit-and-runs.

by Neil Flanagan on Jan 21, 2011 10:20 am • linkreport

I'd support cutting Metro's budget on two conditions:
1) Metro stops at both the VA/MD border.
2) DC starts charging out of state motorist a commuter tax for entering DC.

by whoa_now on Jan 21, 2011 10:24 am • linkreport

These Republican Congressmen will also be the first ones to complain about Metro when their constituents have trouble with the system.

by Shipsa01 on Jan 21, 2011 10:25 am • linkreport

Let's be clear: that's wasn't "ultra-conservative" Republicans. That was Republicans, period.

Can Congress cut the $150 million in capital WMTA budget? I'd assume they would lose the 2 voting seats, and wasn't that some sort of binding agreement?

What I don't see is cutting the federal transit worker benefit. That might have some benefits to WMATMA, although VRE/MARC and the commuter buses might be hurt badly.

by charlie on Jan 21, 2011 10:36 am • linkreport

charlie: They won't lose the voting seats. Jim Graham tried to structure the federal seats so that they don't get to vote in any year when the feds don't put up the money, but MD and VA didn't go along.

by David Alpert on Jan 21, 2011 10:43 am • linkreport

Arlington County will spend $4 million to install new traffic signal control systems that will enable the signal network to adjust timing based on real-time changes is traffic patterns.

Seems to me this announcement is made every other year or so. Why is it necessary to be constantly re-inventing the wheel?

by Marian Berry on Jan 21, 2011 10:57 am • linkreport

The GOP proposal is dead-on-arrival, but it will be used as a basis for discussion by conservatives who insist that the federal spending cuts are necessary to ensure the nation's financial stability. The pro-rail crowd is going to have to demonstrate how rail represents an effective use of funds. They will have to be very careful with how they approach the topic because the kind of rubbish we see on this site isn't going to play out very well once they are preaching to someone other than the choir.

Why should the federal government continue to subsidize systems that continue to run huge operating losses? Why should the federal government fund the expansion of these systems? These are the questions that the pro-rail crowd must answer clearly and resoundingly.

by movement on Jan 21, 2011 11:03 am • linkreport

Why should the federal government continue to subsidize systems that continue to run huge operating losses? Why should the federal government fund the expansion of these systems? These are the questions that the pro-roads everywhere all the time crowd must answer clearly and resoundingly.

You want to talk subsidies? Did you not catch the recent US PIRG report?

by EJ on Jan 21, 2011 11:14 am • linkreport

This is the inevitable result of what happens when you base your mass-transit system off of the generosity of Congress. You can thank your locally-elected officials, in particular, your Democratic machine politicians from the District.

Movement is right. In your little urban echo chamber, your arguments might fall on kind ears, but try making your case to Anytown, USA, whose public transportation might be a Greyhound station an hour away.

Local transit ought to be funded by local money. (The same goes for other types of subsidies, to be fair).

by MPC on Jan 21, 2011 11:26 am • linkreport

But the local here in DC is the federal government. A lot of the people who would be hurt by lack of federal involvement in metro would be federal workers, including congressional staffs. Same deal everytime the federal gov't needs DC (or the whole metro area) services like during the inauguration.

by Canaan on Jan 21, 2011 11:43 am • linkreport

@EJ
> These are the questions that the pro-roads everywhere all the time crowd must answer clearly and resoundingly.

Not good enough. The Republicans, satisfied that the stimulus has done all that is necessary, are now looking to slash spending. Fingerpointing to other programs isn't going to help. However, if you were to demonstrate that greater spending on rail would eliminate the need for spending on roads, you might have something. But where is the case for that? We could have the best rail system in the world and it still wouldn't eliminate the need to expand I95 between Occoquan and Fredericksburg.

by movement on Jan 21, 2011 11:52 am • linkreport

They're not trying to slash spending. They're trying to slash spending on projects they happen not to like.

Note that no defense spending, regardless of whether it has a demonstrated value, is in question. They also suddenly dropped all deficit concerns when talking about tax cuts. And some of the cuts are really trivial, like arts funding.

But overall, there's a clear theme: Things that are important to the average Republican base are not cut, whereas things that help Democrats more are cut.

by David Alpert on Jan 21, 2011 11:57 am • linkreport

We could have the best rail system in the world and it still wouldn't eliminate the need to expand I95 between Occoquan and Fredericksburg.

Where is the case for that?

by Rambuncle on Jan 21, 2011 12:00 pm • linkreport

Some of you should get out more.

Most of the US is road only. Take where my parents live, in northern Wisconsin. They close the schools there for deer season. Transit? Don't make me laugh.

These are the reps that will be voting on this: the arguments must be tailored to their sensibilities. And not to people like us that squander their time on a blog.

by goldfish on Jan 21, 2011 12:13 pm • linkreport

@DA
Of course they are trying to slash spending on things they don't like. That's what politics is all about. Ignore political reality at your peril.

@Rambuncle
Because rail only works when you'd rather not have your car at your destination. A perfectly usable rail system exists between DC and Fredericksburg, yet every Friday thousands of people sit in multiple-mile backups anyway because they'd rather have their car where they are going. Like it or not, most of VA was built with the car in mind. It took decades to get to that point and it will take decades to reverse the trend.

If you have a plan for implementing rail in a way that will eliminate the need for a very expensive road expansion, let's see it! That's what this site should be about - presenting ideas that can make this region greater.

by movement on Jan 21, 2011 12:24 pm • linkreport

"Armed robbery"? The update from metro suggests the victims did not report a weapon?

by Brendan on Jan 21, 2011 12:28 pm • linkreport

Take where my parents live, in northern Wisconsin.

How many people live there? About as many as in a few blocks of DC? What is your point?

by Q on Jan 21, 2011 12:38 pm • linkreport

Uhhh.... Representative from places like that have a vote in Congress and Delegate Norton doesn't.

by Some Ideas on Jan 21, 2011 12:44 pm • linkreport

@woa_now: I'd support cutting Metro's budget on two conditions:
1) Metro stops at both the VA/MD border.

No problem. Metrorail never crosses the MD-VA border. It only crosses the MD-DC and DC-VA borders.
[Sorry, had to be a jerk]

@ MPC: Local transit ought to be funded by local money.

Federal money is local money. This is the Federal District. The IRS as well as the Treasury are in the District. Why does the rest of the country think it's their money? Surely DC is more local than MN-6.

by Jasper on Jan 21, 2011 1:00 pm • linkreport

@Q: Enough people live there to make up the 7th congressional district. They elected Sean Duffy a Republican, as its new representative. In the last congress their representative was the powerful Dave Obey, the chair of the appropriations committee, and was a Democrat.

It is people like Sean Duffy that will set the priorities on the transportation budget. Given where they come from, of course they have roads on their mind, not public transit.

by goldfish on Jan 21, 2011 1:16 pm • linkreport

This blog has literally dozens of posts that all demonstrate rail projects that would better serve residents than road expansion. Look up some of the articles on metro expansion and the corridor cities transitway.

It's in the dang slogan of the site right under the title.

by Canaan on Jan 21, 2011 1:18 pm • linkreport

> This blog has literally dozens of posts that all demonstrate rail projects that would better serve residents than road expansion.

No, it presents proposals for rail projects that would serve some residents better than road expansion. A lot of these proposals start with the assumption that if we had a 10 or 11 figure budget, we could make a really cool rail network. Sure we could, but that funding doesn't exist. Assume that the budget for future projects is zero. If you want it, you need to find an existing appropriation that can be eliminated.

I haven't seen a single proposal that would eliminate the need for expanding I95. Keep in mind lots of people want to get away from urban areas on weekends or vacations. Whether it is the beach or the mountains or anywhere in between, they can't find it in the metropolitan area and they won't be getting there by train. If you take a look at VDOT's long term plan, it really isn't that bad. There is no outer beltway being planned. Most of the improvements are incremental in nature, specifically targeted to address weaknesses in the road network.

Since in many cases road improvements are necessary and can not be replaced by other investments, you need to do the next best thing. You need to demonstrate that the total economic value of the project would exceed its costs (both construction and operating) in the long run. That's why I literally laughed out loud when Amtrak proposed its 12 figure plan for high speed rail. There is no way an investment that large will break even no matter how you calculate the benefits.

by movement on Jan 21, 2011 1:49 pm • linkreport

@movement "We could have the best rail system in the world and it still wouldn't eliminate the need to expand I95 between Occoquan and Fredericksburg."

In the nation with the best rail system in the world---where the limited access highway was invented--- 6-lane highways are uncommon, and 8 lane highways practically unknown. If we did have the best rail system in the world, we would not need to expand I95. Really.

by egk on Jan 21, 2011 1:57 pm • linkreport

"No, it presents proposals for rail projects that would serve some residents better than road expansion."

And those residents would be residents not on the road, as for 95 specifically there have been plenty of posts about VA HSR and upgrades to both VRE and regular amtrak upgrades that are aimed at taking cars off of 95.

by Canaan on Jan 21, 2011 2:26 pm • linkreport

@David
There are conservatives that read your blog and agree with most of what you discuss. Not all conservatives are "roads over transit" despite what you may believe. This is a blog about improving infrastructure and development, not about how much better it is to be a democrat.
Defense spending was slashed substantially a month or two ago. They are eliminating programs and downsizing forces on active duty. The federal highway budget and gas tax should be addressed in this and are not. I agree that that is a glaring omission.
Federal employees pay taxes in DC/MD/VA so there is no reason that the federal gov't should be subsidizing local transit. Feds can contribute via local governments.
There is no reason the government should write a blank check to Amtrak. The whole program will not get cut just like most of this won't get approved. But we need to think about the efficiency of it and if all of the routes are really necessary and helpful.
Spending cuts will happen. Both roads and transit need to make strong arguments about why they matter. There are real costs to things and we can't afford everything.

by Pat on Jan 21, 2011 2:32 pm • linkreport

@goldfish -however in the 2000 census only 21% of the US lived in rural areas.
http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/planning/census/cps2k.htm

59% lived in urban areas w/ pop. 200K and over.

Thus any Rep. who doesn't consider the needs of this majority is actively dis-serving the US public.

by Tina on Jan 21, 2011 2:43 pm • linkreport

@ Pat defense spending hasn't been cut (meaning total budget authority shrinking) in 15 years. In fact, defense spending has increased 65% in real dollars since 2001. The entire Amtrak subsidy is .29% of the defense budget in 2010.

Any party that claims to care about the deficit while placing defense spending off limits simply isn't serious. Unfortunately, that disqualifies both our current political parties.

by jcm on Jan 21, 2011 2:49 pm • linkreport

That's all well and good, but to a great extent at the local level, and pretty much exclusively at the national level, it is much better to be a Democrat. Well, not "better" so much as "the only game in town."

Most local elected Republicans are merely pro-sprawl. At the national level, their only two goals are a) delivering pork to rural and exurban constituencies while b) doing anything they can to "piss off Ed Begley and Jane Fonda."

It's great that individual Republicans can stave off what must be cripplingly acute cognitive dissonance and agree with most of what's discussed on GGW. Perhaps some day they'll get organized and manage to persuade one or two elected Republicans to join with the Democrats in mitigating the damage caused by the core planks of the GOP platform (similar to the role of the Log Cabin Republicans with DADT)

by oboe on Jan 21, 2011 2:51 pm • linkreport

@jcm
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/06/AR2011010603628.html

@oboe
As far as DC goes, there are no local Republicans. I think whether people tend to support transit or not is more of a factor of what they are familiar with. At least every Republican I know who lives in an urban area loves transit options. And most Democrats I know in the suburbs like roads. Is that not accurate at least to some extent? Republicans tend to be from more rural areas and Democrats from more urban areas.

@David Alpert
I assume you will be censoring oboe's last comment:
"cripplingly acute cognitive dissonance"
It strikes me as a bit of an "ad hominem" insult that you have assured everyone has no place on GGW. Thank you.

by Pat on Jan 21, 2011 3:07 pm • linkreport

Pat, defense spending has yet to be cut. That's the Pentagon's proposal, but the Pentagon doesn't set it's own budget, Congress does.

And I got to say as a former Navy officer who firmly believes in a strong defense in general and fully equipping troops in the two wars we are in right now, there is huge, huge opportunities to slash defense spending. Huge, huge chunks of are pork with little military utility, done for local political considerations. Virginia delegation, I'm looking at you here with JFCOM.

by TimK on Jan 21, 2011 3:21 pm • linkreport

@Tina -- Take a closer look at the 59% that live in urban areas, i.e., with a population of > 200K. In particular, look at the Duluth/Superior metropolitan area, part of which is in the 7th congressional district I mentioned. The population of the metropolitan area was 275,486 in 2000. This is clearly and urban area according to the US census. But if you ever went there, you would see that roads are the only realistic way to get around.

Bear in mind that the 7th congressional district has an area of 18,787 square miles. The DC metropolitan area, including exurbs such as Warren County, is only 30% as large. Over such wide spaces roads are going to be the dominant means of transportation for many, many years.

Problem is, the arbitrary "urban" threshold as defined by the US census is far too low to be meaningful when discussing transportation policy.

by goldfish on Jan 21, 2011 3:24 pm • linkreport

@Tina --Given the way Members of Congress are elected, they don't have any incentive to look significantly beyond their district to the interests of the country as whole. That was in theory the responsibility of the Senate. So while I don't like it, it's not a bug in our political system, it's a feature.

by Kate on Jan 21, 2011 3:25 pm • linkreport

@Pat From the story you linked :

The changes mean that the military would see annual budget increases that barely exceed inflation in coming years and that its budget will effectively remain frozen in 2015 and 2016.

Growing more slowly is hardly the same as a cut. If I got a 2% raise next year, instead of the 4% I hoped for, I wouldn't say my salary was cut.

Again, the DOD budget has grown in real dollars every year since 1996. See Figure 2 in this PDF from the Congressional Research Service.

by jcm on Jan 21, 2011 3:30 pm • linkreport

@TimK
Agree with you wholeheartedly on military pork. Unfortunately, the military has been a tool to transfer pork to districts for a while. There are a lot more cuts to be made here just as there are in virtually every agency and entitlement in the budget. It's just unfair for someone to comment that the GOP didn't propose any DOD cuts when they have been in fact proposed. None of these cuts have been made but it is more likely that DOD will make these cuts than Amtrak's subsidy will be eliminated. That was the comparison that bothered me.

by Pat on Jan 21, 2011 4:08 pm • linkreport

People keep making this same stupid fallacy:

Because most of the US land area is open, and without transit, most americans live in open places without transit.

It's completely false.

Dense places are dense because they're full of people. Empty places are empty because they lack people.

NYC, just the city, not the surrounding area, has 8 million people.

Wyoming has 600,000.

I don't care if your grandmother lives in a cabin in wisconsin with the closest neighbor being 20 miles away. It doesn't matter. There are more people living in a single apartment building in Roselyn than in the 150 miles around her.

The NY subway, just the subway, not buses or metro north, has a daily ridership of 5,086,833.

Add up the entire population of the 10 bottom states, many of whom do take transit (delaware for example), and you still dont match the number of people riding the new york subway.

Saying the average american is not in a transit served area is idiotic. The average american may have been a farmer in 1821, but that is no longer the case.

by JJJJJ on Jan 21, 2011 4:19 pm • linkreport

Given the way Members of Congress are elected, they don't have any incentive to look significantly beyond their district to the interests of the country as whole. That was in theory the responsibility of the Senate.

Right, though as JJJJJ hints at above, the system is even more fundamentally flawed. Those 8 million New Yorkers don't even have a Senator--the one that represents them must also represent the suburban voters in New York state. And the rural voters.

Meanwhile, the 600,000 citizens of Wyoming get two. The fact that the Senate has a profoundly anti-democratic set of rules leads to an even worse situation where the most picayune rural interests take precedence over all else.

by oboe on Jan 21, 2011 4:27 pm • linkreport

@JJJJJ -- and how many Senators and Representatives does Wyoming have? And how many does DC have? Who sets the priorities concerning federal transportation policy?

by goldfish on Jan 21, 2011 4:30 pm • linkreport

oboe-

Which is why we also have a US House of Representatives based upon each State's population.

by Douglas Willinger on Jan 21, 2011 4:43 pm • linkreport

I like the way this conversation has gone. Lack of interest for transit is not fair. Transportation advocates should focus their efforts on presenting these points that JJJJJ makes. You can't blame people for not liking rail projects in Ohio and Wisconsin. Rather than push for rail for the sake of rail, we should focus on the most beneficial areas, like the NE corridor. But you have to do it in a way that the senator from rural Montana will understand. Rather than make it an "us vs. them" debate, it should be a presentation of how transit here helps someone in another state. HSR and public transit are much less partisan than just about every other issue. Yes, the GOP tends to be pro-road while Dems are more open to transit but to a far lesser extent than most other issues. Let this be an issue of cooperation and something might actually get done.

by Pat on Jan 21, 2011 4:45 pm • linkreport

Re: Dems vs. Reps and the deficit. The NYTimes and CBS News just released a poll about cutting the deficit. It can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/01/20/us/poll-graphic.html?ref=politics Take a look at the 6th question and what Independents and Democrats chose to cut first. I know that really doesn't mean much, but just found it to be interesting.

by Shipsa01 on Jan 21, 2011 4:45 pm • linkreport

"Take a closer look at the 59% that live in urban areas, i.e., with a population of > 200K. In particular, look at the Duluth/Superior metropolitan area, part of which is in the 7th congressional district I mentioned. The population of the metropolitan area was 275,486 in 2000. This is clearly and urban area according to the US census. But if you ever went there, you would see that roads are the only realistic way to get around."

Duluth/Superior is a mess (I-35 cutting through Duluth does not help). They're also on their fringes of their respective states, and not exactly rolling in money. People there are just trying to get by, making ends meet. They have neither the time nor the money to push for comprehensive public transportation, let alone push for comprehensive public transportation from states that have shown little support for such, despite the fact that those communities would benefit.

by RedBirdie on Jan 21, 2011 4:52 pm • linkreport

A HUGE reason why the federal government needs to keep paying for Metro (and for other DC government functions) is because it doesn't pay local taxes.

If the federal government paid local property taxes for every building it owns, DC would have a lot more money, and perhaps even be able to fund Metro (with the usual Virginia and Maryland help for their shares, of course). Now add in taxes from all the non-profits that locate here because of the federal government, and you'd really be in a quite different situation financially. Allow DC to institute a commuter tax and, hell, DC might even run a surplus.

by Tim on Jan 21, 2011 4:56 pm • linkreport

Which is why we also have a US House of Representatives based upon each State's population.

Yes, well obviously I get that in a "School House Rock" sense of the Unassailable Wisdom of the Framers. But in a real-world, "functioning representative Democracy" sense, I'm not sure how giving the depopulated northern Western states, what?, eight senators and veto power of any and all legislation or executive appointments is offset by the fact that we have proportionality in the House.

Meanwhile CA gets two? NY gets two? It's obvious that jerrymandering during the great western expansion has left things in a pretty fucked-up state from which we've never really recovered.

by oboe on Jan 21, 2011 5:03 pm • linkreport

oboe: Not to argue against you, but the setup of the Senate came from the days of anti-federalism. From the days that colonies got their royal charters up until the Constitution was ratified (and even a little bit after that), the states (and colonies before that) thought of themselves as sovereign, well, states, in the classic sense of the word.

The point of Congress was more about making decisions based upon the will of the states, not the people. So it wasn't that the people congressman X represents want something, it was that Virginia wants something. They made the House to represent the will of the states in a way proportional to each state's population and they made the Senate to represent the will of the states in an equal way for each state.

Obviously, much as changed in more than two centuries.

by Tim on Jan 21, 2011 5:10 pm • linkreport

@ Tim, And don't forget all the embassies that live here tax free.

@Pat What is it, something like 40 percent of DC property is untaxable? even the GAO said the federal government needs to contribute more, because the tax structure for DC is unsustainable as is.

by lou on Jan 21, 2011 6:00 pm • linkreport

I'm sure that the Federal government will start paying local DC property taxes on the buildings it owns when the DC government starts paying Federal taxes on the revenue it collects. Oh, and the embassies are legally the property of foreign sovereigns, so good luck with taxing that. Let's get real.

There's plenty of room to cut the DC budget. For example, today Gray appointed a new head of the LGBT affairs office. I can understand the political appeal for some consituencies, but is this really an essential local government expenditure? Cut it, along with other fluff.

by Bob on Jan 21, 2011 6:39 pm • linkreport

@Bob, DC has a LGBT population of 8.1%. This is larger than the Asian and Pacific Islander population of DC and trivially smaller than the Hispanic/Latino population of the city. Both groups have cabinet-level representation as well.

by Craig on Jan 21, 2011 8:54 pm • linkreport

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