June 10, 2005

WASHINGTON (June 8)—U.S. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Illinois Transportation Sec. Tim Martin issued a strongly worded protest against the administration’s plan to cut Amtrak’s 2007 budget, saying it could derail the state’s own efforts to build up passenger-train frequencies using its own funds.

“Just one month after the State of Illinois doubled their funding commitment for Amtrak, the U.S. House of Representatives has proposed a federal funding cut of more than a third,” the senator and secretary said in a joint statement.

“In February, when President Bush first proposed his budget which drastically under-funded Amtrak, many of us warned that it would derail passenger service for this country,” the two officials declared. “Sadly, the House has rubber-stamped the president’s funding plan that could force closure of some of Amtrak’s routes in Illinois.”

“The Senator and the Secretary are correct,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “Last week the House approved only $900 million in Amtrak support for 2007. That is a shut-down budget. There is no way $900 million would allow Amtrak to continue to operate all the train frequencies it currently operates, and certainly no way it could afford to operate the two new Chicago-St. Louis frequencies, the second Chicago-Quincy frequency and the second Chicago-Carbondale frequency that Illinois will begin sponsoring October 29.”

Szabo noted that although the State of Illinois will be contributing $12 million more per year toward the operation of those trains, Amtrak will have to contribute funds of its own, and “it can’t do that if the funds aren’t there.”

Sec. Martin said the decision to cut Amtrak’s federal funding to $900 million from this year’s $1.2 billion comes as a slap in the face to Gov. Blagojevich and the General Assembly, who believed the federal government would reward, rather than punish, states that agreed to raise their share of passenger-rail funding.

“If Congress moves in the opposite direction and slashes funding, our effort to increase Amtrak service in Illinois will be jeopardized, and seniors, college students and many other people across Illinois who rely on Amtrak as their only means of public transportation will be hurt.”

Durbin said, “If the House and the president’s proposals are adopted, Illinois’ Amtrak expansion will be stopped dead in its tracks. I will continue to work with the State of Illinois and my colleagues in the Senate to correct this shortsighted funding plan and restore the money that Amtrak needs to operate.”

Historically, the Senate has been more favorable to federal support of passenger rail than the House and usually amends the House’s appropriation to give Amtrak a larger amount, Szabo said.

“Then, when the House and Senate get together to reconcile the two figures in conference committee, they sort of split the difference and compromise on a figure that’s higher than the House’s budget.”

But Szabo said no one should be complacent that a more reasonable Amtrak budget will once again emerge automatically from the negotiation process.

“We are dealing with an administration that has a very harsh, anti-passenger-train attitude,” he said. “This administration also is very sensitive to charges that it has engaged in a lot of wasteful spending, so the White House Office of Management and Budget is very anxious to demonstrate that there’s at least one program where they can cut the budget. Once again, Amtrak is the target.”

Szabo said the Illinois Legislative Board would be working very closely with both Sen. Durbin and the state’s junior U.S. Senator, Barack Obama, to make sure that the Senate restores as much of Amtrak’s funding as possible.

“Those new trains have to run,” he said. “The growth of our state’s economy depends on personal mobility choices for all our citizens, both in the big cities and the Downstate communities. We’ve done our work in Illinois. We can’t let out-of-touch administration bureaucrats in D.C. dismantle our efforts.”