House Republicans’ Vote Jeopardizes Amtrak’s Future
September 27, 2002…In a vote on vital funding yesterday, Republicans clearly showed what Amtrak’s fate will be if the GOP continues as a majority in the House of Representatives: the Republican-dominated House Appropriations Committee voted $762 million for Amtrak, some $500 million less than the $1.2 billion carrier needs just to keep operating in the coming fiscal year.
In a committee vote of 35-to-25, the Republican majority overrode efforts of Democrats to provide Amtrak with the money it requires.
“If anyone ever needed a reason to know who stands with railworkers and who is our enemy, this is it,” says International President Bob Scardelletti. “We need to take that information to the polls, remember our friends and remember our enemies, and vote accordingly.”
Fifty percent of Amtrak’s unionized workforce, 10,000 employees, are TCU members.
The Republicans on the Appropriations committee had proposed a $200 subsidy limit per passenger on trains, knowing that this would not be enough on long distance trains. They proposed six long distance routes to close. Then they backed off because the six run through districts of some Republicans facing close reelection races. So instead, the committee approved $150 million for all long distance trains during the next fiscal year, which began October 1. This would leave the burden of picking routes to close on Amtrak’s shoulders, not Republicans’. Amtrak and congressional Democrats argued that closing a few routes would not save the carrier much money, if any.
Rail labor observers report that Rep. Martin Sabo (D-MN) made a “valiant but unsuccessful effort” to persuade Republicans that their votes against full funding would irreparably harm the nation’s transportation system. The final decision on Amtrak funding remains at least several weeks away. In the meantime Amtrak is assured sufficient funds through a continuing resolution to keep operating in its current configuration.
Says President Scardelletti, “What we really need is a long-term resolution of the Amtrak situation. As the House committee vote shows, the start of that long-term solution must begin on Election Day, November 5. We need Democrats to win control of the House and keep control of the Senate.”
Over in the Senate, the Democrat-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee has approved the $1.2 billion amount.
TCU is backing Senate bill S. 1991, sponsored by Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-SC). The bill is a combination of long-term authorization for Amtrak and high-speed rail.
“It’s a good bill, provides the necessary money and we are working very hard on it,” reports National Legislative Director Howard Randolph, Jr.