January 28, 2003

CHICAGO (Jan. 29)–With the battle for Amtrak’s budget about to reach its climax in a critical House-Senate conference committee, rail labor is asking its members to reach out to key House negotiators and ask them to support Amtrak’s full budget request of $1.2 billion.

“UTU members in Illinois have a particularly critical responsibility here,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo.

“Because the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, represents the 14th District of Illinois, our members need to contact his Washington office and urge that he support full funding for Amtrak.

“We all need to focus on the Speaker right now,” Szabo said. “He controls the agenda. He determines what kind of language and what kind of numbers House negotiators will approve when they meet with their Senate colleagues to establish Amtrak’s funding level. I’m calling on all our members in Illinois, and all of the members of their families, to reach out to Speaker Hastert now and request that he join with the Senate in approving Amtrak’s full budget request.”

Szabo said the most effective way to send the message to the Speaker is to call his Washington office at (202) 225-2976. If you can’t make a phone call, he said, then draft a short letter and fax it to Speaker Hastert at (202) 225-0697. The message should be short and simple, he said: Please support full funding of Amtrak at $1.2 billion for Fiscal Year 2003.

On January 17 the Senate approved Amtrak’s full budget request of $1.2 billion, but Amtrak will not receive that level of funding unless the House approves the same amount. The House earlier passed legislation providing Amtrak with only $762 million, an insufficient figure that Amtrak President David Gunn says would force the railroad to shut down sometime in the spring.

Because the two houses have passed legislation with differing amounts of funding for Amtrak, a House-Senate conference committee now must reconcile the two bills by establishing a figure on which both chambers can agree. But Amtrak says anything less than the $1.2 billion approved by the Senate will leave Amtrak vulnerable to a shutdown.

“Even if they compromise somewhere between the House’s $762 million and the Senate’s $1.2 billion, all that will do is push back the date of Amtrak’s shutdown from spring until later in the summer,” Szabo said.

“That’s why it’s essential that our members reach out to Speaker Hastert now and ask that his House negotiators agree to join their Senate colleagues in approving $1.2 billion for Amtrak. The House negotiators need to raise their budget figure to equal the Senate’s $1.2 billion rather than jawbone the Senate’s figure down closer to the House’s $762 million. If Amtrak is not fully funded, the wheels will stop turning sometime later this year.”