Transport advocates bash Ryan budget

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Transportation advocates are unhappy with Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) proposed budget for the 2015 fiscal year.

Ryan proposed a $1.014 trillion budget for 2015 this week that that he says would help cut $5.1 trillion from the federal deficit over the next decade.

Ryan’s budget calls for eliminating funding for Amtrak and reducing the amount of money that is given to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). It also requires the Department of Transportation (DOT) to reduce its spending on road and transit projects to the amount of money that is brought in by the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax unless transfers from other areas of the federal budget are offset with additional spending cuts.

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The current transportation bill that is scheduled to expire in September included more than $50 billion per year in infrastructure spending, which transportation advocates have said is barely enough to scratch the surface of the U.S.’s infrastructure needs.

The gas tax only brings in about $34 billion per year, and the Congressional Budget Office has forecasted that the DOT’s Highway Trust Fund will go bankrupt in the fall without an additional infusion of cash.

AAA Auto Club Vice President of Public Affairs Kathleen Bower said Ryan’s budget would cut transportation funding too deeply.

“AAA agrees with Chairman Ryan that user fees should be a guiding principle of the Highway Trust Fund. User fees are deficit neutral and provide predictable funding on which state and local transportation officials can rely,” Bower said in a statement.

“However, Ryan’s budget plan will not provide an appropriate level of investment necessary to build and maintain the nation’s 21st century transportation system,” Bower continued. “The significant cuts he is proposing will hamper investments in safety, further delay needed bridge improvements and hamper mobility in and around congested urban areas.”  

Bower said the gas tax, which has not been increased since 1993, should be increased rather than limited to current levels, as Ryan’s plan proposes.  

“The best solution for the near term would be a fiscally responsible proposal — such as increasing the federal gas tax coupled with improved accountability — that adds additional revenue to the Highway Trust Fund and helps make America globally competitive over the long term,” Bower said.

Democrats in the House have introduced a bill to gradually increase the gas tax to 33 cents per gallon, but the measure has failed to gain traction in the GOP-led House.

Ryan said in his budget proposal that requiring Congress to offset future transfers from other areas of the federal budget to pay for transportation projects would make lawmakers more likely to address the underlying problems with the current funding source.

“Instead of continuing to rely on general fund transfers for solvency going forward, the Congress needs to address the systemic factors that have been driving the trust fund’s bankruptcy,” Ryan said in his budget proposal.

Amtrak supporters were equally unhappy with Ryan’s budget proposal. Amtrak has received about $1 billion per year from Congress since its inception in 1971, but Ryan said in his funding proposal that it was time for the rail company to live on its fare-box collections.

“The budget supports eliminating operating subsidies that have been insulating Amtrak from making the structural reforms necessary to start producing returns,” Ryan said. The 1997 Amtrak authorization law required Amtrak to operate free of subsidies by 2002. The budget supports continued reforms for Amtrak as well as reductions in headquarters and administrative costs for agencies.”

Amtrak supporters have pointed out that a majority of the company subsidies are used for construction projects and to subsidize its long-distance trains, not its popular services in places like the Northeast U.S.

Midwest High Speed Rail Association Executive Director Richard Harnish accused Ryan of trying to kill the Amtrak rail service altogether.

"Buried deep in the pages of Congressman Paul Ryan’s proposed 2015 federal budget today is a murder,” Harnish said in a statement. “The victim of this crime is Amtrak, the nation’s federally supported railway system. The eradication of Amtrak will hurt the millions of American railroad passengers, destroy the jobs of approximately thousand railroad employees, and impact the economic life of the hundreds of towns and major cities on Amtrak routes all over this country.

"The Ryan budget aims to cut over $5 trillion in federal spending, on many programs of all shapes and sizes,” Harnish continued. “But when it comes to Amtrak, he aims not merely to reduce the expenditure but to eradicate it completely.”

Harnish compared Ryan’s proposal to eliminate the money for Amtrak to previous Republican efforts to cut the railway’s funding.

"This is not the first time that Amtrak has come under budgetary attack,” Harnish said. “There are always short-sighted politicians who fail to recognize the economic generating power of a nationwide railway system. They grossly underestimate the impact of Amtrak in linking the country’s small towns, agricultural and urban regions, and in generating businesses along the routes.

"All previous efforts to destroy Amtrak have been met with an outcry of protest from rail and business communities and it looks like we need to make our voices heard yet again,” Harnish continued.