WASHINGTON — Advocacy groups were quick to express their concerns about proposed cuts to federal funding for Amtrak and mass transit in the fiscal 2018 budget proposal that the White House released on Wednesday.
However, they also noted that President Donald J. Trump's budget plan is only the opening salvo in a prolonged battle between the executive and legislative branches over how the government should spend taxpayers' money. So far lawmakers have issued no statements about the transportation proposals.
The “America First” budget would eliminate funding for all of Amtrak's long-distance passenger trains. It would also eliminate any new capital projects under the Federal Transit Administration, and effectively terminate the Department of Transportation's popular TIGER grant program that has benefited transportation infrastructure projects since 2009.
The National Public Transportation Association said that while the president is touting a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure, the White House wants to cut billions from existing transit program.
Some 220 communities would lose Amtrak service if Congress carried through with the funding cuts, according to the National Association of Railroad Passengers.
“It’s ironic that President Trump’s first budget proposal undermines the very communities whose economic hardship and sense of isolation from the rest of the country helped propel him into office,” said Jim Mathews, NARP president. He said many small towns depend on Amtrak as a link to the U.S. economy.
“These proposed cuts come as President Trump continues to promise that our tax dollars will be invested in rebuilding America's infrastructure,” Mathews said. “Instead, we have seen an all-out assault on any project — public and private — that would advance passenger rail.”
Amtrak employees should not be alarmed by the headlines, according to President Charles W. "Wick" Moorman.
“We do not yet know [what will happen],” Moorman said in a letter to employees on Wednesday. “Every year, there is vigorous debate on what Congress should fund and what it should cut. These debates are long and hard, and they often result in a final outcome that is very different from the initial proposal, so let’s give this process some time.
“As the budget process progresses, we look forward to working with President Trump, [DOT] Secretary Chao, and Congress to ensure they understand the value of Amtrak’s long distance trains and what these proposed cuts would mean to this important part of the nation’s transportation system,” Moorman said.