As towns flanking the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers continue to be inundated with historically high water, it’s good to see Congress taking action to provide some relief. Unfortunately, that relief comes on the back of high-speed rail programs.
Last week, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), who chairs the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, introduced an amendment to provide $1.028 billion in emergency funding to the Army Corps of Engineers “to repair damage caused by recent storms and floods, and to prepare for future disaster events.” That’s all good and noble till you get to the next line: “The funding is offset by a rescission of the remaining emergency High Speed Rail funding that was originally approved in the failed ‘stimulus’ bill.”
In April, a Congress desperately trying to come to some agreement on spending cuts before the government shut down on them cut all funding for high-speed rail for the 2011 fiscal year, but there was still a little bit left over from 2010. The Frelinghuysen amendment zeroes that out, too.
The amendment, however, is attached to the 2012 appropriations bill, which wouldn’t be enacted in any case until the new fiscal year begins October 1. Given Congress’s inability in recent years to pass budget resolutions in time for the start of the fiscal year, it seems highly unlikely that any of this will happen anytime soon. That’s bad news for the folks in South Dakota and Louisiana and everywhere else that are suffering from these floods, but it could be good news for rail funding. After all, Frelinghuysen pays for the flood assistance with a rescission, and Congress can only rescind unobligated funds. As long as the FRA obligates the money before the appropriations bill is enacted, there will be nothing left to rescind.
According to a Republican staffer, the House majority is using high-speed rail money as a sort of “slush fund” to offset any additional spending they might want to approve.
Of the $1 billion, $450 million was going to be used for catenary upgrades in Frelinghuysen’s own home state of New Jersey, between Morrisville, Pennsylvania (just across the river from Trenton) and New Brunswick. The FRA won’t divulge what the rest is slotted for.