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franklin county times

Amtrak headed down another expensive trail

By Staff
July 21, 2002
Action in a congressional conference committee late last week indicated that Congress continues to head down an expensive trail with regard to Amtrak funding. Congressional negotiators put another $205 million into an emergency supplemental appropriations bill to keep Amtrak running for a while longer.
Now, let's understand this: "Emergency supplemental appropriations" become necessary when Congress fails to act in a timely manner on critical funding measures. Congress can not agree on spending priorities and the resultant bickering produces political gridlock. So, amazingly, as various needs and desires arise  some of them legitimate members of congressional conference committees seem to snatch money out of thin air for programs and projects that many Americans neither need nor want. Despite renewed talk of federal budget deficits and the high cost of financing the war on terrorism and a spate of other federal initiatives, the money flows under the guise of "emergency" funding.
Funding for Amtrak would qualify for such "emergency" status only if you believe the republic would come crashing down if the national passenger rail service went under. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Amtrak has been a drain on the national treasury for nearly three decades and will get this new shot of money because of its successful lobbying campaign. A responsible Congress would embrace the findings of the Amtrak Reform Council and move immediately to restructure Amtrak into something more closely resembling an effective element of a real national transportation system.
The $205 million approved last week is only a dribble. As Amtrak chairman and Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith put it in a press release on Thursday, "This appropriation enables us now to move forward on our fiscal year 2003 appropriation request of $1.2 billion to support Amtrak's critical capital and operating needs across the national system; a level of funding to which more than 160 House members and a majority of the Senate have pledged their support."
If his assessment is correct, Amtrak will get more public dollars and American taxpayers will lose again by funding a national passenger rail service that has managed to spend more than $25 billion since its creation  never once even coming close to its initial congressional mandate of breaking even.
We don't fault Smith and his fellow Amtrak advocates for passing the hat in Washington, but otherwise fiscally conservative members of Congress and senators should call a halt to all wasteful spending, including this one.

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