Heritage Action opposes $7.8B Amtrak bill

The conservative Heritage Action foundation is coming out against a nearly $8 billion funding bill for Amtrak that is scheduled for a vote in the House on Tuesday. 

The group said Tuesday that reforms Republicans have touted in the measure (H.R. 749), are “suspect,” while increases in rail funding in the bill are real. 

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“The bill’s sponsors misleadingly claim the bill ‘reduces Amtrak’s authorized funding levels by 40 percent,’ ” Heritage Action wrote in a blog post on its website.  

“This is a reduction in previous authorization levels, but does not represent an actual reduction in spending, as authorizations for Amtrak have consistently exceeded appropriations,” the blog post continued. “For instance, Amtrak received $1.4 billion in FY 2015. According to the Congressional Budget Office, H.R. provides $1.4 billion for Amtrak in FY 2016.”

The legislation at issue provides a slight increase from the federal government’s present level of funding for Amtrak, which has been highly controversial in years past. 

The measure provides about $982 million per year for Amtrak's national network and another $470 million annually for its popular Northeast U.S. routes.

The bill, which would expire in 2019, appropriates another $300 million per year for construction on Amtrak routes in the rest of country and about $24 million per year for the company's inspector general. 

Since its inception in 1971, Amtrak has historically received about $1 billion per year from the government for operations and construction projects, but some Republicans have pushed in recent years to privatize the company’s most profitable routes in the Northeast U.S. 

The privatization effort was defeated by a combination of Democrats and Republicans who represent suburban districts in the Northeast and Midwest, where Amtrak and other commuter railways are popular. 

The Amtrak funding measure scheduled to come to the House floor on Tuesday, which is known as the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act (PRRIA), contains none of the controversial privatization language. 

Heritage Action said Tuesday that lawmakers should not be increasing Amtrak’s federal funding.

“Amazingly, the bill also increases the authorized subsidy for money-losing long distance routes rather than placing these routes on a path to fiscal sustainability,” the group wrote.  

“Amtrak has failed to respond to congressional mandates for decades, and there is little reason for that to change under H.R. 749,” Heritage Action continued. “If lawmakers want to provide quality, reliable service without burdening taxpayers they should seek to privatize Amtrak, ending federal subsidies altogether.” 

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who is a frequent critic of Amtrak, is expected to introduce an amendment during the floor vote containing the privatization language, but the measure is likely to be approved as is.