Republicans Propose Spending Cuts Targeting Amtrak, Transit Funding

A new Republican proposal would eliminate federal subsidies to Amtrak; kill New Starts, the primary federal transit funding program; and make painful cuts to dozens of other federal programs. It’s a plan by the Republican Study Committee, which is trying to keep alive House Speaker John Boehner’s campaign pledge to reduce the budget by $100 billion. Boehner himself has been backing off from the pledge, given the popularity of many of the programs the Study Committee is now proposing to axe.

Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, is sworn in by House Speaker John Boehner Jan. 5, 2011. Jordan is sponsoring the Spending Reduction Act. Photo: ##
Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, is sworn in by House Speaker John Boehner Jan. 5, 2011. Jordan is sponsoring the Spending Reduction Act. Photo: ##

According to a Committee press release, “Compared to current projections, the Spending Reduction Act would save taxpayers $2.5 trillion through 2021. It starts by keeping House Republicans’ pledge to take current spending back to 2008 levels and repeal unspent funds from the failed ‘stimulus.’ At the beginning of the next fiscal year on October 1, 2011, spending is further reduced to 2006 levels and frozen there for the next decade.”

The proposal would shift some spending, like Medicaid costs, to the states, which are even more cash-strapped than the federal government. Media attention is focusing on proposed cuts to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, USAID, and veterans’ programs. But the cuts to transportation are deep.

The FTA’s New Starts program is, in its own words, “the federal government’s primary financial resource for supporting locally planned, implemented, and operated major transit capital investments.” SAFETEA-LU authorized $6.6 billion for the program through 2009, and the extension gave another $2 billion for last year. It funds commuter rail, light rail, heavy rail, bus rapid transit, streetcars, and ferries.

According to Bureau of Transportation Statistics contributor William Mallett, “Partly as a result of federal support, rail transit route mileage in the United States almost doubled between 1985 and 2008, and rail transit passenger trips and passenger miles grew by 66 percent and 73 percent, respectively.”

The Republican Study Committee would axe the entire program. Along with it, the entire $1.57 billion Amtrak subsidy would disappear. The high speed rail program, which the GOP has been publicly itching to gut, is also, predictably, on the chopping block. Lesser-known programs like the Appalachian Regional Commission, which includes transportation as one of its programs, would also lose $76 million in annual federal subsidies. The $150 million annual federal contribution toward Washington DCs transit authority, WMATA, would also be cut, despite the longstanding federal commitment to supporting the infrastructure, like the metro system, that keep the capital running.

The EnergyStar program, grants to states for weatherization, U.S. support for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: all gone.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) is promising an up-or-down vote on the spending cuts. Though Democrats are generally trying to go along with much of the Republicans’ rhetoric of fiscal restraint, it’s unlikely the Senate will go along with the wholesale elimination of so many popular programs.

37 thoughts on Republicans Propose Spending Cuts Targeting Amtrak, Transit Funding

  1. The Party of NO continues to want to stop funding to rail and transit projects, yet there is not one word about cutting funding to highways, highway infrastructure or public parking. The fix is in when it comes to the oil and highway lobby getting their way.

    Good public transportation is an essential part of our civilization and making cities work. We can do without it, but so can we do without parks, libraries even schools. We need to look where our scarce funds will do the best public good.

  2. The Republican Party is loaded with ideological and pathological bigots who are opposed in principle to all forms of public transport. They do so because they do not believe in society as such and in the common good.

  3. @ Brian. You’re absolutely right, this is motivated by an irrational and anti-democratic prejudice against anything that is ‘public’ and civic. They also want to cut funding for public broadcasting, while pbs is the most trusted news source in the country. I’m sorry but NPR is not a liberal news source, but I think this misperception is part of their animus as well. Let’s hope these plans to gut transit funding at the federal level falls flat on its face.

  4. What does the GOP always pull this? Most people favor high-speed rail funding and yet this is always their favorite target because rail “doesn’t pay for itself”. Its almost laughable that after all this time they keep using this same twisted logic folks. NOTHING….NOTHING….NOTHING pays for itself in transporation. Unless the federal government subsidizes ALL forms of transportation than NOTHING would run. It is a FALSE impression that the airlines MAKE MONEY to pay for themselves. They DO NOT and WOULD NOT unless the federal government subsidized their infrastructure including the gigantic airports, roadways leading to them, parking lots, ATC, TSA etc etc etc. The airlines pay for their planes and their ticket counters and so they can make a profit because the GOVERNMENT (you and I) pay the rest! Now, go to England where the government does the exact same thing EXCEPT they do it for railroads and guess what, the railroads operate under the banner of PRIVATE carriers like Virgin Railways, just like the AIRLINES do here. The government PROVIDES the infrastructure and the railways provide the trains and ticket counters. Get it now? We set up the airlines DIFFERENT than our railroads in the USA, thats unfair and people should know the truth! Our railroads are set up for failure so the GOP can keep hammering at them and thats the truth but the general public is catching on. An American Airlines retiree.

  5. It’s so frustrating. They think they’re doing me a favor by putting my hard-earned dollars back in my pocket. I don’t WANT my tax money back in my pocket! I want a g*ddamn halfway decent inter-city rail system in this country and I can’t build that by myself!

  6. You have a typo – Boehner promised to cut $100 billion, not $100 million.

    That aside, the proposed cuts to transit are symbolic, from a budgetary perspective. They aren’t a tenth of a percent of US GDP. They’re not about fiscal prudence – they’re about signaling to the right-wing voters that the plan’s proposers are Very Serious People, especially when it comes to cutting spending that goes to people who aren’t like them.

  7. I think it would make more sense to axe the Republicans. Evil, evil people trying to destroy the United States.

  8. To a foreigner, the list looks quite reasonable. Certainly cut any money to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – a collection of frauds and/or self deceivers.

    But rather than complaining about the transfer of costs to the States, remember that the States should be raising the money themselves. It is the same as we have here in Australia, the Federal Government sets the taxes and gets the money, then pays it to the States for them to spend. Not good.

    And, yes, it is time people realised that transport is expensive. So, Cut all transit/transport subsidies by 20% each year, including payments for airlines, highways and waterways. All new road works, other than routein maintenance, should be paid by users – tolls or whatever.

  9. It’s clear that Republicans believe in ideology before results, rather than the opposite (programs that produce tangible results that may be ideologically impure). Perhaps all programs must past GOP litmus test before being passed (even if program could do public good).

  10. the wonderful people of washington,the biggest thief of the american public. they take from the poor and give to the rich. they don’t care about america.they are only out for themselves,i is the republican party, the party of nothing. they promise,but lie to the public.and steal.they don’t care about this country.they are going to put this country back to the stone age while the rest of the world with there modern transportation system laughs at us.impeach every republican.thank you

  11. Gas over $3,two oil wars bleeding our treasury & soldiers,economy not recovered from wreck of $4 gas & these idiots want to scrap our rail system just when it’s growing & improving!

  12. “If Obama doesn’t get that public option through I’m gonna sit on my hands during the Midterms.” And that you did.

  13. I cant believe the Republicans want to cut our transportation. The US lags other developed nations in both Europe and Asia and alot of our transportation infrastructure is outdated. The republicans(nixon) were the ones that created Amtrak and the republicans should come up with a fix if they dont like what they created, and a fix does not mean eliminate.

  14. @Justin
    If Public Broadcasting was a desirable form of media, then the public would pitch in and willingly provide for all it’s costs. They wouldn’t need government to finance their any operations. More “Viewers like You” thank you.

  15. @ Interurbans. Transit only accounts for only a few percent of all passenger miles in the United States. As for public good, transit does little when federal money goes to pay for a rail system in San Francisco (the BART) when I’m in Maryland. According to the United States Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, rail and mass transit are considerably more subsidized on a per passenger-mile basis by the federal government than other forms of transportation; the subsidy varies year to year, but exceeds $100 dollars (in 2000 dollars) per thousand passenger-miles, compared to subsidies around $10 per thousand passenger-miles for aviation (with general aviation subsidized considerably more per passenger-mile than commercial aviation), subsidies around $4 per thousand passenger-miles for intercity buses, and automobiles being a small net contributor through the gas tax and other user fees rather than being subsidized. Americans paid $93.6 billion in tolls, gas taxes, and other highway user fees. Of this amount, $19.3 billion was diverted to mass transit and other non-highway activities. At the same time, various governments—mainly local—spent $44.5 billion in property, sales, or other taxes on highways, roads, and streets. The net subsidy to highways was $25.1 billion, or about half a penny per passenger mile.” O’Toole’s road budget and passenger-mile numbers are disputed. In the same year, Amtrak receives direct subsidies of just over $1 billion, or 22 cents per passenger mile.

  16. Randal O’Toole is a CATO institue scholar who has been lobbying against smart growth, transit, light rail, high speed rail and others things that do little to help the public overall.

  17. Outside the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak is a niche player in passenger transportation. In 2003, Amtrak accounted for just 0.1% of U.S. intercity passenger miles (5,680,000,000 out of 5,280,860,000,000 total, of which private-automobile travel makes up the vast majority. In fiscal year 2004, Amtrak routes served over 25 million passengers, while, in calendar year 2004, commercial airlines served over 712 million passengers ( there are not even that many people in the U.S. which means willing people wanting to use it more than once). Even a study done ironically in Portland shows helping someone who lacks even a high school degree get a car is far more advantageous than the degree, as it enables them to persue education, resources, and a job outside the area he/she lives [which may or be economically depressed]. They want to re-engineer the whole system to adapt to the few who may not have cars, when it’s simply easier to adapt those few people to the system and does far more for the public good. Why not allow privitization of transit. Shuttles and buses can easily absorb all transit riders at a narrow cost to trains and light rail.

  18. Some people look at Amtrak’s pitiful ridership and conclude that high-speed rail will never work. Others look at it and conclude that high-speed rail is necessary for rail to become a nontrivial travel option.

    By the way, the net subsidy to highways, excluding local roads that are ineligible for gas tax funding, is $74 billion – $192 billion in total money made available for roads plus $4 billion in collection costs minus $122 billion in gas tax and toll revenues.

    At least your numbers are only off by a factor of 3 – you’re not even the worst offender among the road warriors.

  19. High speed rail doesn’t work…. In France the average person rides high speed rail only 450 miles a year, they drive 20 times more than they ride the train and fly across country 3 times as much. In Japan they ride nearly 3 times more of the much cheaper low speed trains than the high-speed ones and drive 10 times as much as high-speed rail. Only 2 bullet train lines in France & Japan have recovered their capital costs and still require subsidies from taxpayers to provide significant upkeep. In the 1980’s Europe had only one high speed rail line and rail in general accounted for over eight percent of passenger travel. Today Europe has pumped billions to develop and build the same systems elsewhere, now rail accounts for less than six percent. America is perceived as Oil/SUV addicted road hogs and cars account for 85 percent of our travel. Those “Green” responsible Europeans, well cars account for 79 percent. 10 dollar per gallon gas has done little to diminish Europes driving habits, nor has the tens of billions spent on high-speed rail or other transit systems.

  20. In Honolulu, they propose a 20 mile elevated rapid transit system to connect the city to neighboring cities and venues. It’s original 2.1 billions dollar budget has already ballooned to over 4 to 7 billion. Start with energy, they say the project will save 396 million British thermal units (BTUs) of energy each day, or over 144 billion BTUs per year but project construction will cost 7.48 trillion BTUs meaning it will take 52 years of savings to pay back the energy cost. Long before 52 years are up, huge energy investments will be further needed to replace rail cars, worn tracks, and other infrastructure so no net energy savings would be expected. As for emissions….the project will save all of 171 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per day, or about 62,415 tons per year. Add construction and operating costs and divide by CO2 per ton and its costing you thousands of dollars per ton.
    In Portland, Oregon they started a communter train. They spent 160 million dollars to start it. It loses 30 million a year to operating costs, it barely carries 250 riders a day. The money spent on that train could buy every one of those passengers a new Toyota Prius once a year for the next 30 years.
    In Norfolk, Virginia a light rail project is already 50 percent over its intended budget. Now documents have come to light that agency officials knew the line was going to cost more than they thought. The transit agency’s current CEO is talking about bringing criminal charges against the now-departed officials who were in charge when the line was being planned. Norfolk learned the way a lot of other cities found out. Transit agencies will lie about the cost of light rail, before, during, and after construction. For example, Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) recently bragged it completed a 1.8 billion dollar light rail line under budget. Sounds great except the line was only supposed to cost 1.1 billion. (Those are “year of expenditure dollars so there is no need to adjust for inflation.) So when they say “under budget,” they mean “less than the budget that we had to increase by $700 million after we decided to build.

  21. So what about people who can’t drive. I guess they don’t fit into your utopian world of everyone driving everywhere.

  22. As for people who can’t drive…….Over 92 percent of american households actually own a vehicle. The remainder that don’t, most of them are people that could afford a car, but decided not to own one. The main people that cant or dont drive, which have been referred to the “permanent under-class” [victims of historic racism and other various socio-economic or health problems] and dont benefit by simply receiving a transit pass or spending millions on trains. As for people physically incapable of driving, as opposed to building trains, instead they have transit in the form of shuttles or small buses that can receive people who are handicapped or blind and those setups are far far cheaper than a light rail or commuter rail. I think transit can exist in the private competitive sector to take people anywhere they want to go cheaply. [And I’m not talking about taxi or airport style shuttles either]. You can buy a van or commercial vehicle with seating for 10 or more and easily transport a few of those people anyplace they want to go. In some places thats illegal but that proves government is getting in the way of people’s mobility by creating monopolies with the shuttle and taxi industry. But you could easily request and compensate me if I drove you to a mall or something; similar to an otherwise free approach in Virginia and DC, its called slugging. A study performed (ironically of all places) in Portland found, helping someone who lacks even a highschool degree get a car is far more valuable to them than the highschool degree, as it will allow them to persue education, find a better job and gain better services and ultimately superior housing. If the town they live in is economically depressed, forcing them to stay there does little to help them. There are programs for low income people to help get their first car, which is a far wiser and cheaper use of public funds. Now if your reluctant to help low-income people, the solution isn’t transforming society, but simply giving people oppurtunity to reach better economic potential.

  23. LazyReader, the operators of the bullet train operators in Japan, Germany, and France are profitable. Check their websites, financial statements, and so on. In Japan this includes commuter rail – and the operators are almost always privatized. In Germany and France, it includes only intercity rail – but German commuter rail receives far less money in subsidy than US transit, because of greater efficiencies.

    Before repeating inane statements of hacks like Randall O’Toole, you have a responsibility to yourself to look up some transit agency and railroad websites and read their financial statements.

  24. Given the experience in Japan. Japan built its high-speed rail network to directly compete with existing low-speed trains. The best available data indicate that the average resident of Japan rides conventional intercity trains an average of more than 1,000 miles a year, while they ride high-speed trains only about 400 miles a year. France replaced conventional trains with high-speed trains, subsidizing the trains enough to supposedly keep them affordable. Despite the lack of competition, the latest data suggest the average resident of France rides high-speed trains only about 450 miles a year. That’s more than they ride low-speed trains, but the French also drive twice as many miles per year (per capita) as the Japanese. In other parts High speed rail is embraced by European Governments, not by the people. In Portugal it is more expensive to take the train than to take a car. The train is almost empty. The government has canceled the latest? high speed rail project because it is far to expensive and the tickets would not sell with out massive subsidies. An investment is something that pays you back in time. Intelligent people choose the investment that pays back the most in the least amount of time.

  25. LazyReaderRandal wrote: “O’Toole is a CATO institue scholar who has been lobbying against smart growth, transit, light rail, high speed rail and others things…”

    Quoting Randal O’Toole, Cato or Reason just sends up a red flag that you have no idea of what is really going on.

    Randal O’Toole is a paid lobbyist for big oil & auto makers. So he’s only going to say policy stuff that is good for them financially.

  26. LazyReader, the vast majority of Japanese low-speed rail ridership is on commuter lines, not low-speed intercity rail. For example: JR East’s passenger-km breakdown is 15% Shinkansen, 80% Tokyo-area commuter rail, 5% other – see link here. The revenue breakdown is 28-67-5. And “Other” includes both nearly all legacy intercity lines north of Tokyo, and commuter rail in Sendai and Niigata. So nearly all intercity rail revenue in Japan is high-speed.

    It’s important to keep track of whether you’re looking at intercity or commuter transportation, because there are a bunch of places where the two are dominated by different modes of transportation. Passenger numbers and even passenger-km are dominated by commuter transportation, which could make the intercity mode seem unimportant – see e.g. ground vs. air passenger-km. In Europe, intercity travel is dominated by high-speed rail and air, and major intranational markets like Paris-Lyon have the majority of ridership on HSR; at the same time, commuter transportation is by car, except in the main cities and in Switzerland. The figures you cite for France demonstrate that while its HSR is top-rate, its local transit is horrific outside Paris and a few other cities like Lyon.

  27. The board is being ruined by trolls like this LazyReader, or should I say LazyThinker. He sounds like a paid shill of the CATO Institute or Reason Foundation.

  28. People need to know what zero funding of Amtrak means. It means an end to all intercity passenger service in the united States. It means someone (USDOT) has to cover amtraks $4 billion in debt, or allow anyone to buy Amtrak’s assets, including most of the Northeast corridor and New Yorks Penn Station on the bankruptcy court steps. As Amtrak hosts and subsidises commuter operations on most of the Northeast Corridor the the end of Amtrak also means the end of MARC, SEPTA and New Jersey Transit Service on this vital corridor affecting Wahsington, Baltimore, Philadlephia, New Jersey and New York City. But don’t worry, I know the Heritage Foundation was working on a plan to sell the Northeast Corridor off and rip up the rails, and pull down the electric power wires and make it a private Toll highway to get trucks off of I-95!


  29. To put these numbers in perspective, that $1.57b for Amtrak is equivalent to 10 fighter jets. That’s one-zero.

    The ARC and WMATA numbers together are less than half of the ~$500m we spend on military bands each year.

  30. @Dale: if you think LazyReader is bad, you haven’t tried to talk to garyg (a.k.a. Mixner, Gordy, or DillonS). LazyReader is pro-highway and anti-transit, but actually responds to what you say and has conversations; I read him as someone who reads The Antiplanner, not someone who contributes to it.

  31. Once again, we have people like LazyReader assuming that because most people choose to utilize the private automobile over tranist that:

    (1) It means that they always have a choice. Naturally, if public transportation is unavailable in a given area, citizens are almost forced to purchase an automobile. Unfortuantely, there are many places in this country where that is the case.

    (2) That they are always acting rationally. I have a friend who lives close to metro line here in Miami that — during rush hour — gets him to work, one shot, with very few stops in about 15 minutes. His personal automobile takes him about 25 – 45 minutes depending on traffic. Why does he drive instead of use public transit? So he can listen to his music really loudly. That was the reason he gave me. Not because he has places to go to after work. Not because it’s too hot or cold. Not because he is sickly. Just so he can listen to his stereo out-loud. Of course, he has the freedom to do that, but I think most would argue that his reasoning isn’t necessarily rational.

    (3)That Europeans use their personal automobiles the way Americans do. Most Europeans use their personal automobiles for special trips outside city limits, but from what I’ve seen, their personal automobiles stay at home most of the week, and they tend to use their cars mostly on the weekends.

    The fact of the matter is that in this country, public transportation is seen as the “poor people’s” transportation, but nothing could be further from truth, in that personal automobile ownership is an expensive enterprise, even with all its subsidization from the federal government. Families sometimes spend up to a quarter of their incomes to sustain a car-centric lifestyle. The personal automobile only offers tons of freedom (so claim the enthusiasts) until it breaks down or is destroyed in an accident.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


What the GOP Spending Rollback Would Mean for Transportation

Back in September, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), now Speaker-elect, told Good Morning America he wanted to “pass a bill this month at 2008 spending levels – you know, before the TARP, before the bailouts, before the stimulus – and let’s put some certainty in the economy.” He continued, “That in itself would save about 100 […]

Despite Nods to Transit, House GOP Still All About Highways

In its annual “Views and Estimates” document [PDF], the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee indicates that when it comes to transportation policy, despite a few nods to transit, House Republicans still want to cut spending and let highway-centric state DOTs sort out the details. While the House transportation bill could be on its last legs, the document […]

Six Lies the GOP Is Telling About the House Transportation Bill

The transportation-plus-drilling bill that John Boehner and company are trying to ram through the House is an attack on transit riders, pedestrians, cyclists, city dwellers, and every American who can’t afford to drive everywhere. Under this bill, all the dedicated federal funding streams for transit, biking, and walking would disappear, leading to widespread service cuts […]