Posts Tagged ‘Fiscal year 2020 federal budget’

Budget Proposal Gets Little Reaction on Capitol Hill

February 15, 2020

A Trump administration proposal to more than halve Amtrak funding in federal fiscal year 2021 received a muted response on Capitol Hill.

The Rail Passengers Association wrote on its blog that congressional leaders in both parties are noting that there is a two-year budget agreement in effect and they expect that will guide the appropriations process.

“We’ve got the caps deal in place,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “We negotiated it last year. It’s good for the second year, and we’ll comply with that.”

Nonetheless, RPA is trying to activate its members to contact Congress in opposition to the Amtrak funding cuts.

The administration’s budget proposal calls for slashing Amtrak funding from the $2 billion appropriated for FY2020, which ends on Sept. 30, to $936 million.

The budget proposal would reduce funding for the Northeast Corridor from $700 million to $325 million.

Funding of the national network would fall from $1.3 million to $611 million.

The budget document calls for the elimination of Amtrak’s long-distance passengers trains over the next five years.

Specifically, that would be accomplished through implementation of a new grant program whose objective is to encourage state and local governments to fund Amtrak service in corridors of 100 to 500 miles.

The budget document gave few details about the grant program other than it would only last through FY2015.

However, the administration made clear that it sees no future for long-distance trains.

“Amtrak trains inadequately serve many rural markets while not serving many growing metropolitan areas at all,” the budget document said. “The Administration believes that restructuring the Amtrak system can result in better service at a lower cost, by focusing trains on better-performing routes, while providing robust intercity bus service connections.”

RPA said the proposed $550 million in National Network “transformational grants” appears to be designed to help Amtrak cover the costs of multi-year labor agreements and contracts.

The rail passenger advocacy group argues that those agreements in tandem with the lost revenue from the eliminated trains and lost connections will make ending Amtrak’s long-distance network an expensive proposition.

Last year the Trump administration proposed a similar funding program that would have given states money to implement intercity bus services in lieu of passenger trains.

That idea went nowhere in Congress and the long-distance network survived intact.

The FY2021 budget proposal promised to provide details at an unspecified later date as part of the administration’s proposal for renewing the surface transportation act that expires on Sept. 30.

That document will, presumably, also provide a more complete picture of what corridor services Amtrak and the U.S. Department of Transportation have in mind for funding with the federal transformation grants.

For more than a year Amtrak President Richard Anderson has talked up the concept of corridor services between urban centers, particularly in the South and West.

Anderson’s concept is to provide multiple daily frequencies on those routes.

In his public comments and congressional testimony, Anderson has said many cities served by long-distance routes are served poorly either through scheduling or lack of service frequency.

Amtrak executives have also in recent weeks visited state legislative transportation committee hearings to talk up the corridors concept.

An Amtrak public affairs manager spoke in Tennessee in favor of a new route between Nashville and Atlanta.

The same official also spoke in Kansas about an extension of the Heartland Flyer to the Sunflower State via Wichita.

In both instances, the Amtrak executive made clear that state and local governments will be expected to underwrite the operating losses of the routes.

During the Kansas hearing, the Amtrak executive referred to a yet to be enacted fund to help states fund new service.

The Trump administration budget proposal appears to be the framework for that fund.

Last year in response to questions raised during a congressional hearing Amtrak in a letter to senators declined to list the proposed corridors that it is studying, but indicated that it would continue to work with states that have expressed an interest in new Amtrak service.

Among the routes in states that have worked with Amtrak in recent years on service expansions are a route between Duluth, Minnesota, and the Twin Cities; an extension of Northeast Regional service to Bistol, Virginia; and a train between Chicago and the Twin Cities on the route of the Empire Builder.

There are no shortage of potential new Amtrak routes including some that have been discussed for years but failed to gain political traction.

That would include the 3C corridor in Ohio between Cleveland and Cincinnati via Columbus and Dayton.

Amtrak has never served that route, although it does provide service currently to Cleveland and Cincinnati with long-distance trains.

Columbus and Dayton lost Amtrak service on Oct. 1, 1979, with the discontinuance of the New York-Kansas City National Limited.

If Congress does, indeed, follow the budget deal reached last year, it seems likely that Amtrak’s services in the next fiscal year will be the same as those now operating.

Budget proposals are more policy statements and aspirational statements than they are blueprints.

The Trump administration is not the first to call for elimination of Amtrak’s long-distance passenger trains.

The real action is likely to be in the political wrangling over the surface transportation renewal bill and even action on that is not guaranteed despite the looming Sept. 30 expiration of the current FAST Act.

Congress might seek to extend the current FAST act through a continuing resolution just as it does the federal budget when it fails to reach agreement on a appropriations as the current fiscal year is coming to a close.

FY2020 Budget Boosts Amtrak, Cuts Public Transit Grants

December 22, 2019

The $1.4 trillion federal fiscal year 2020 spending bill contains a boost in Amtrak funding, but also slashes some spending for public transit and railroad grant programs.

President Donald J. Trump signed the two budget bills late Friday that were adopted by Congress earlier in the week.

The budget appropriates $2 billion for Amtrak, an increase of $58 million over the FY2019 budget.

However, the budget cut rail and transit programs by 3.6 percent, a drop of $586 million, below FY2019 levels.

The Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Grants received $325 million, an increase of $70 million over FY2019.

However, the Federal State of Good Repair program was cut in half compared to FY2019 levels to $200 million for FY2020. It had received $400 million last year.

Public transportation received $12.9 billion in total. Although the transit formula grants increased from $9.9 billion in FY2019 to $10.1 billion in FY2020, the Capital Investment Grants program saw its funding plunge from $2.5 billion in FY2019 to $1.9 billion in FY2020.

The investment grants program is used to launch new rail services.

Amtrak funding will be broken down to $1.2 billion for the national network and $650 million for the Northeast Corridor.

The bill earmarks $100 million for help pay for the acquisition of new single-level passenger equipment to replace aging Amfleet equipment used in Amtrak’s NEC, state-supported and long-distance services.

The Rail Passengers Associated noted in an analysis posted on its website that the budget bill contains a number of policy statements favorable to intercity passenger rail.

That includes a statement of the sense of Congress that long-distance passenger rail routes and services should be sustained to ensure connectivity throughout the National Network.

The bill also directed the Federal Railroad Administration to count state acquisition costs and ongoing capital charges related to Amtrak’s new fleet to as a local match for any future applications to the CRISI or SOGR grant programs.

Amtrak was directed to provide a station agent in each Amtrak station that had a ticket agent position eliminated in fiscal year 2018 and was told to provide a report to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, no later than 120 days after enactment of the budget describing the changes initiated or implemented to Food and Beverage services in FY2019 and comparing those savings with Amtrak projections.

The spending bill directed Amtrak to submit a comprehensive workforce analysis for the Amtrak Police Department.

The passenger carrier was prohibited from using funds from the bill to reduce the total number of Amtrak Police Department uniformed officers patrolling on board passenger trains or at stations, facilities or rights-of-way below the staffing level on May 1, 2019.

Budget Vote Seen Coming Next Week

December 14, 2019

News reports late this week indicated that Congressional leaders have reached agreement on a federal budget for fiscal year 2020.

The Rail Passengers Association said the budget is expected to largely maintain the status quo but contain incremental increases for Amtrak and public transit funding.

The $1.3 trillion budget is expected to be voted on by the House next Tuesday but the Senate has not yet set a date for a vote.

The Trump administration has not yet publicly signaled if the president will sign the budget bill.

Congress faces a Dec. 20 deadline to pass a budget or a continuing resolution in order to avoid a shutdown of the federal government.

Progress Reported on FY2020 Transportation Funding Bill

December 10, 2019

The Rail Passengers Association reported last week that Congress is making progress toward reaching an agreement for fiscal year 2020 transportation appropriations.

Congress faces a Dec. 20 deadline to get budgets for FY2020 approved. A continuing resolution funding the federal government in the absence of approved appropriations expires on that date.

RPA did not provide many details about the transportation budget deal other than to say that leaders of the appropriations committees in the House and Senate have agree on top-line numbers for transportation spending.

That funding includes a boost for Amtrak spending.

Reportedly, the transportation spending bill will be among the earliest budget bills to be voted on by Congress.

Congressional leaders were said to be working on 12 separate appropriations bills that need to be passed before the continuing resolution expires.

Senate OKs FY2020 Transportation Funding

November 2, 2019

The U.S. Senate approved an amendment this week that blocked a 12 percent cut to transit agencies in fiscal year 2020.

The action came as the Senate also approved an appropriations bill that included funding for transportation programs including an increase in Amtrak funding.

The public transit cut would have amounted to $1.2 billion had it not been blocked.

Senator Martha McSally (R-Arizona), who sponsored the amendment to block the transit cuts with Doug Jones (D-Alabama), said the public transportation funding cuts would have been devastating to communities had they been adopted.

“These cuts could result in drastically reduced services, including those for low-income individuals and individuals with disabilities, and reduce funds necessary to modernize bus and rail fleets as well as slow construction of new stations and shelters,” she said during debate.

The spending bill funds transportation, housing and urban development, and related agencies.

The appropriations levels are similar to those adopted earlier by the House and the differences will now be need to be hammered out in a conference committee.

Because that process also involves reaching agreement on general spending figures for the budget as a whole, the reconciliation process may not be completed before the Nov. 21 expiration of a continuing resolution that is funding the federal government in FY2020.

Some congressional observers say Congress may need to adopt another continuing resolution in order to avoid a government shutdown.

In a related development, Senate Finance Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) acknowledged his committee has made no headway toward reaching an agreement on how to pay for increased spending outlined in the next generation of the federal surface transportation programs.

“There’s nothing new since we came back in September,” he told reporters in response to a question about funding a five year, $287 billion highway reauthorization proposal passed in August.

The Senate has yet to consider any proposals for mass transit or intercity rail funding.

Grassley said he has been unable to arrange a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) to discuss the eventual size and pay-fors for a financing title.

Passage of the reauthorization bills may slide into 2020 or beyond.

Senate May Act on Transportation Spending Next Week

October 26, 2019

Senate approval of funding for Amtrak and other transportation agencies in fiscal year 2020 may come next week.

Leaders in the Senate are seeking to move a four-bill appropriations package that will increase Amtrak funding as approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee in September.

In the process, the Senate leadership is seeking to limit the number of controversial amendments that could bog down passage of the spending bills.

Once the Senate passes the spending bills, a conference committee with the House will need to agree to changes acceptable to both chambers.

The proposed federal spending on transportation in the Senate bills is comparable to that of a House bill passed earlier.

But sticking points could occur over policy riders that were attached to the spending bills in both chambers.

The Rail Passengers Association reported that among these policy riders are provisions regarding replacement of Amtrak station agent positions that the carrier has already eliminated and improved relationships with private rail car owners.

Funding for FY2020 is currently authorized under a continuing resolution that will expire on Nov. 21.

Although Senate leaders say they might be able to win approval of spending bills before then, Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) said that “unless a miracle happens around here with the House and the Senate, we will have to come forth with another CR.”

House leadership is pushing to keep any additional continuing resolution of short duration as a strategy to keep pressure on legislators to approve permanent appropriations bills.

Senate Committee OKs $2B for Amtrak in FY2020

September 26, 2019

Amtrak would receive $2 billion under a federal fiscal year 2020 transportation funding bill recently adopted by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

That would be a $58 million increase over FY 2019 funding. The bill, which provides $86.6 billion in transportation related funding, was approved on a 31-0 vote.

Amtrak’s appropriation would include $1.32 billion for the national network and $638 million for the Northeast Corridor.

The latter includes $100 million for Amfleet I equipment replacement and $255 million for Consolidated Rail Improvement and Safety Investment grants: $255 million

The passenger carrier would also allocated $300 million for state of good repair grants and $2 million for restoration and enhancement grants.

Committee Reportedly Agrees on Transportation Funding

September 14, 2019

News reports indicate that the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing has agreed on spending $74.3 billion for transportation and housing in federal fiscal year 2020.

The committee is expected to approve appropriation levels for transportation spending that march well with what the House has approved for spending.

“I’ve worked very closely with our ranking member, our staffs have worked very closely, and I expect at least at the subcommittee level, that everything will go smoothly,” said subcommittee Chairwoman Susan Collins (R-Maine). “You never know what’s going to come out of the full committee.”

She was referring to a mark-up session expected to be held soon at which specific funding levels and policy riders will be revealed.

However, observers expect the committee will seek to avoid controversy.

Congress is also said to be seeking a temporarily fix to avert $1.2 billion in cuts to the mass transit fund triggered by declining fuel tax revenue.

There are just two weeks left before FY2020 begins and Congress is widely expected to approve a continuing resolution to continue funding the federal government through late November.

Lawmakers have said in their public comments that they expect the continuing resolution to be clean, meaning that no riders will be tacked on to create political fights.

Legislators in both parties are suggesting that there is little risk of a government shutdown.

Veto Threatened Over Transportation Funding

June 22, 2019

The Trump administration is threatening to veto a spending bill that contains an increase in Amtrak funding.

The Rail Passengers Association said the administration cited many disappointments about the bill, including its failure to eliminate Amtrak’s national network as the administration had proposed earlier this year.

The bill in question would fund programs for federal fiscal year 2020 which begins Oct. 1.

It increased funding for other transportation programs as well as Amtrak.

The administration also expressed displeasure with the funding bill for continuing to fund the California high-speed rail project and the Essential Air Service program.

RPA said the House is likely to approve the bill anyway because Democrats are in control.

The rail passenger advocacy group said that before a final House vote on the funding bill, a number of amendments are likely to be taken up including some that would slash transportation funding generally and Amtrak funding in particular.

More than 500 amendments have been submitted to the funding package.

Among them is a bid to cut transportation funding across the board by 14 percent, while another would direct U.S. DOT to adhere to a Congressional mandates that the federal government pay for 50 percent of costs in rail transit projects (compared to the 80 percent share it pays on highway projects).

The latter amendment was introduced after the administration began seeking to pay less than 50 percent on rail transit projects funded by the Capital Investment Grant program.

Another amendment would require Amtrak to follow the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act by giving advance notice when it intends to lay off employees.

Some Republican House members fell short in their effort to remove language preventing DOT from seeking to claw back federal funding from the California high-speed rail project when their amendments were ruled out of order.

Amtrak Sends FY2020 Wish List to Congress

March 27, 2019

Amtrak is seeking the full $1.8 billion in federal funding for fiscal year 2020 that it has been authorized.

The legislative request submitted to Congress also expresses a desire for a dedicated funding source to support the Northeast Corridor and the national network.

If Congress appropriates more than $1.8 billion to the passenger carrier, Amtrak has a list of potential add-ons.

This includes addressing a capital projects backlog in the Northeast Corridor that includes the North Portal Bridge, the B&P Tunnels in Baltimore, and the Chicago Union Station Master Plan.

It also includes money for new diesel locomotives and replacements for Amfleet and Superliner equipment.

If funding is made available, Amtrak would like to acquire a right of way between Petersburg, Virginia, and Raleigh, North Carolina; reinstate service between New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama; add service between Detroit and Toronto; and extend the Heartland Flyer from northern terminus Oklahoma City to Newton, Kansas.

The base appropriation Amtrak is seeking contains $600 million for the Northeast Corridor and $1.2 billion for the national network as authorized by the FAST Act.

Future amounts of NEC funding would be $612 million for FY2021, $624 million for FY2022, $637 million for FY2023 and $650 million for FY2024.

The national network funding would be $1.2 billion for FY2021, $1.25 billion for FY2022; $1.27 Billion for FY2023, and $1.3 Billion for FY2024.

The budget request mirrors a Trump administration proposal to transfer funding of Amtrak’s long-distance routes from Amtrak’s annual grant to money channeled through the Restoration and Enhancement grant program.

The administration in its own FY2020 budget called for ending long-distance trains and instead serving rural communities with other modes of transportation, such as intercity buses.

In response to that idea, Amtrak said in its appropriation request: “Amtrak appreciates the administration’s focus on expanding intercity passenger rail service to today’s many underserved cities and corridors across the nation.

“We believe that a modernization of the National Network, with the right level of dedicated and enhanced federal funding, would allow Amtrak to serve more passengers efficiently while preserving our ability to maintain appropriate Long Distance routes. We look forward to working with the Administration, Congress, our state partners, and other stakeholders to consider these proposals in more depth”