Obama Pushes for Rail Investment Renewal - Without New Funds

Yonah Freemark writes about the expiration of the nation's five-year rail investment program that funds the FRA, Amtrak, and freight rail - separate from MAP 21, and suggests that without a new funding source, don't expect to see any increases.

Freemark provides an in-depth analysis of the $40 billion rail element in Obama's FY'2014 budget - and makes a similar observation to an earlier Planetizen post on the transportation budget, "Where's The Beef, Mr. President?".

It's a double-edged sword for rail advocates: on the one hand, Obama proposes a progressive five-year reauthorization proposal backed by a detailed 242-page plan (PDF) for for funding the Federal Rail Administration (FRA), National High-Performance Rail System, Current Passenger Rail Service (Amtrak), and Rail Service Improvement Program (including freight rail improvements). But without additional funding, Freemark writes, "Good luck getting that through Congress."

There was an alternative — the Administration could have proposed a new source of revenue to pay for the program, such as an expansion in the fuel tax or the creation of a vehicle-miles travelled [sic] fee. That’s needed all sorts of transportation: The Congressional Budget Office reported last week that the Transportation Trust Fund (sourced from fuel taxes) will have a more than $90 billion shortfall by 2023 (and be operating in a deficit by 2015), imperiling any new spending on highways or urban transit. [Also reported here].

Yet the Obama White House has shown itself hostile to any tax increase program that would affect lower- and middle-class families, and the Congress has certainly not pushed back with its own proposals.

Instead, Obama proposes to pay for it with the "peace dividend" that could be applied to any new proposal - or to reducing the deficit. Speaking of which, Freemark writes, "With little interest in increasing deficit spending, unfortunately, that proposal, too, is likely to go nowhere. The status quo will be reinforced."

See written testimony (PDF) before Congress of Joseph C. Szabo, Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, on the upcoming expiration of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 and Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008.

Full Story: The Administration Refreshes Its Push for a Major Infusion of Funds into the National Rail Program

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