The Good, the Bad and the Ugly from the Transportation Extension
September 23, 2020
Congress has passed a short-term Continuing Resolution and a one-year extension of surface transportation law. Rail Passengers breaks down what's in the bill -- good and bad.
Yesterday, the U.S. House passed the “Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act” (H.R. 8319), which will keep the government open through December 11th of this year and extend current transportation law for a full 12 months. The bill is expected to pass the Senate quickly, with the White House indicating President Trump will sign the bill into law, thereby averting a government shutdown and the halt of revenue collection for state highway departments and public transit agencies.
Democratic and Republican leadership agreed to focus on a “clean” extension to speed final passage and avoid political fights over conflicting priorities, so the bill (mostly) protects the status quo.
That leaves the next round of coronavirus relief as the last hope for the U.S. transportation system—for planes, trains AND automobiles. We need all hands on deck to keep trains and transit moving through the pandemic. Please call or write your elected officials today!
There were a few key provisions in H.R. 8319 that passengers should take note of:
The Continuing Resolution (CR) extends current funding levels for Amtrak through December 11th. Pro-rated across two and a half months, that means Amtrak will get roughly $394 million ($138 million for the Northeast Corridor and $256.4 million for the National Network).
The permanent elimination of the requirement that Amtrak food & beverage service make a profit—the so-called “Mica Provision,” named after former T&I Chair John Mica of Florida who waged a crusade against the Amtrak dining car. While a small victory, this eliminates a persistent obstacle to providing quality on-board service.
Transfers $3.2 billion in general funds to the Mass Transit Account (MTA), providing another year of solvency and ensuring the Federal Transit Agency will be able to process grants to transit agencies in FY21.
Stops a $6 billion across-the-board cut of transit formula funds by eliminating the Rostenkowski Test in FY21.
To be completely honest, this compromise bill leaves intercity passenger rail out in the cold.
With a narrow focus and no dedicated Passenger Rail Trust Fund—which Rail Passengers has been working towards for decades—it was always going to be difficult to get the $5 billion for Amtrak we’ve been campaigning for. However, it’s disappointing to see Congressional leadership fail, yet again, to put their money where their mouth is. (Of course, since it’s taxpayer dollars we’re talking about, it’s technically OUR money.)
The bill also failed to resolve any of the questions raised by Amtrak’s 3x service proposal for Long Distance Routes—failing even to take up Rail Passengers recommendations for improving the service return metrics. There must be better guidelines put in place to ensure that trains are running on a normal schedule by Spring 2021.
Put simply: another $24.4 billion in general fund subsidies for highways, airports and air services.
Transfers $10.4 billion in general funds to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), providing another year of solvency and ensuring the Federal Highway Administration will be able to deliver funds to state DOTs in FY21.
Transfers $14 billion in general funds to Airport and Airway Trust Fund, which helps fund Airport Improvement Program grants and Federal Aviation Administration operations.
For as much as anti-passenger rail special interests attack Amtrak as “a money losing service,” it’s always the highway and airport trust funds that are getting bailed out by taxpayers. This $14 billion transfer to the HTF and MTA comes at the end of a steady stream of bailouts that add up to more than $154 billion in general taxpayer dollars since 2008.
We should be using this crisis to build better alternatives to move people around our country. Instead, we’re throwing yet more money at overcrowded roads and highways with no plan for how bring the U.S. transportation network into the 21st Century—which is now already 20% over!
Please, add your voice to the chorus asking for more investment in passenger trains and transit. We’ve sent almost 15,000 messages to every senator and hundreds of representatives—but we can’t afford to let up!
"We would not be in the position we’re in if it weren’t for the advocacy of so many of you, over a long period of time, who have believed in passenger rail, and believe that passenger rail should really be a part of America’s intermodal transportation system."
Secretary Ray LaHood, U.S. Department of Transportation
2011 Spring Council Meeting