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McClintock: Eliminate Amtrak Subsidies

Congressman Tom McClintock introduced an amendment to H.R. 749 to eliminate taxpayer subsidies for Amtrak.

McClintock was Thursday’s KVML “Newsmaker of the Day”. Here are his words, as he presented his amendment on the House Floor.

“Mr. Chairman,

Every year, as Amtrak’s operating losses have mounted, Congress has dutifully shoveled more money at it to keep it afloat; every year, its Congressional supporters have promised reforms to bring these losses under control; and every year these promises have fallen flat.

This year, we’re told, “look at all the new reforms that we’re building into this. In five years they’ll have their act together.”  Well, how many times have we heard this promise?

Let me cite just a few. Back in 1997, facing mounting criticism, The Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act required Amtrak to operate without any federal operating assistance after 2002!

When that didn’t happen, in 2008 Pete Sessions attempted to eliminate only its most expensive route from reauthorization.  That year, Jim Oberstar called any reduction in subsidies a “preemptive strike” and promised that the bill was chalk full of reforms that would soon solve Amtrak’s problems.

Well, when that didn’t happen, in 2014, Paul Broun proposed eliminating subsidies just as my amendment does.  At the time, Tom Latham said “I concede that Amtrak could be more efficient.  However, it has made significant improvements in this area recently; it is moving in the right direction.”

“Moving in the right direction.”

This year, taxpayers will subsidize Amtrak in the amount of about $1.4 billion.   The bill before us authorizes $1.4 billion for NEXT YEAR.   Put another way, we will shell out $45 every time a passenger steps aboard an Amtrak train. That’s $45 per passenger per trip in direct losses billed to taxpayers.  That’s up from $32 of loss per passenger six years ago.  Despite endless promises, things are not getting better.

Amtrak’s apologists claim this is a 40 percent reduction in authorized funding.  In fact, Amtrak received $1.4 billion in 2015 – the same as this bill authorizes in 2016.

Outside experts have reported that over the next ten years, subsidizing Amtrak will cost taxpayers $49 billion.  Let me put that in family sized numbers: the average American family will have to cough up $392 from its taxes over the next ten years, just to cover Amtrak’s losses.    What does that $392 out of a family’s taxes pay for?  Well, among other things, Amtrak’s food and beverage employees who are paid an average of $106,000 a year to provide a service that lost over $800 million over the past decade – just selling snacks on Amtrak trains.

Are we at least seeing any improvements in service?  Not hardly.  Amtrak’s monthly on-time performance has significantly declined.

Bigger losses.  Declining service.  That is not “Moving in the right direction.”  That was a false promise then, just like all the other false promises we’ve heard since 1971.

In last year’s appropriations debate, Amtrak apologists warned that cutting off the subsidies would – quote – “eliminate an entire transportation option.”  It does no such thing.

Amtrak claims that it’s running a profit on the heavily-travelled Northeast corridor; nothing in my amendment would change this.  Anything Amtrak makes on these profitable routes, Amtrak keeps.  With this amendment, Amtrak would be perfectly free to continue to operate and expand its Northeast Corridor from its own profits and to subsidize its other money-losing operations to the extent that its profits would cover them.

However, this amendment would end the practice of forcing American taxpayers to underride another five years of broken promises. ”

The amendment was defeated.

The “Newsmaker of the Day” is heard every weekday morning on AM 1450 KVML at 6:45, 7:45 and 8:45 AM.