On Friday, July 15th, the House passed a 2012 Water and Energy Appropriations Bill that included a provision to strip previously-awarded funding for high-speed rail and to offset emergency disaster relief for the victims of flooding in the Midwest. Disaster relief does not require offsetting spending, however; and the promised "emergency" funding would not arrive until fiscal year 2012, indicating that the rescission is little more than an attack on the nation's High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail program. The bill targets over $2 billion in funding that, while it has been awarded to specific high-speed rail projects across country, has not yet been obligated, giving Congress the power to take the money back.
This rescission of federal funding for rail projects was proposed by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, whose own state of New Jersey stands to lose about $500 million in funding to repair and improve passenger rail. Frelinghuysen's amendment to the Appropriations Bill passed committee on a party-line vote, and passed through the House despite the opposition of Democrats, including 15 members who took to the floor to speak against the bill.
The bill "will eliminate thousands of jobs, will halt a large number of rail projects across the country. . . and hurt local and station economies," said Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York, chairwoman of the High Speed & Intercity Passenger Rail Caucus. Slaughter called the attempt to use Midwestern flooding as an excuse to target rail funding "nothing but an opportunistic attempt to gain politically from a human tragedy."
It will likely be necessary to heed Democratic calls to find another source to help flood victims in need, as the Republican plan is expected to fail. To become law, it would need to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate and avoid a veto by President Obama. Further, states with ongoing passenger rail projects can protect their awards by moving to obligate the funding before the bill takes place, preventing Congress from taking the money back. However, it is disturbing that the House of Representatives would consider breaking promises to the states and attacking successful projects that are generating jobs and driving economic recovery nationwide. Please visit StandUpForTrains.org to let your elected officials know that passenger rail is a critical investment for America's future.