Passengers board a late-running eastbound Lake Shore Limited at Cleveland on Jan. 10. (Photograph by Craig Sanders)
Amtrak will score an increase in funding in the omnibus fiscal year 2014 budget bill that Congress is expected to pass. As a whole, transportation received $71.1 billion, which is a reduction of $1 billion from the FY2012 appropriation.
Lawmakers allocated $1.39 billion to Amtrak, which is a $46 million increase over its FY 2013 appropriation.
Fueling the increase is a $1.05 billion capital budget (including $199 million for debt service, $50 million for American With Disabilities Act spending, and $20 million for Northeast Corridor-specific programs).
Amtrak’s operating budget was cut by $102 million although the railroad has an option to “flex” $40 million in capital spending to operations if needed.
The bill also includes $10 million in Department of Homeland Security funding for Amtrak and $23.5 million for the Amtrak Inspector General.
The bill imposes on Amtrak limits on overtime for employees and a prohibition on federal support for routes on which Amtrak offers a discount of 50 percent or more off normal, peak fares. An exception to the latter is made when the loss from the discount is covered by the state and the state participates in setting the fares.
Repealed in the bill is restrictive language included in the Hurricane Sandy relief act pertaining to Amtrak’s access to approximately $80 million in fiscal 2013 capital recovery funds.
Public transit will receive $10.7 billion in FY2014, a $100 million reduction over the amount enacted in 2013.
The budget bill contains nothing for high-speed rail. The Office of Sustainable Communities and its Integrated Planning and Investment Grants, formerly known as the Regional Planning and Community Challenge Grants, received zero funding.
Multi-modal transportation programs fared well in the budget. Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) will get a 20 percent increasing in funding from $500 million in 2013 to $600 million in 2014.
That $500 million translated into $474 million in grants last year with some used for planning and administration. Some $20 million of the 2014 amount is earmarked for planning. The bill includes $17.8 billion in discretionary appropriations and $53.5 billion in “non-discretionary ‘obligation limitation’ funding” for highways, transit and safety, and some funding for airports.
The obligation limitation is the amount that agencies are allowed to spend, partly based on expected receipts from the Highway Trust Fund.
These figures are $164 million below the fiscal year 2013 enacted level and $4.9 billion below the president’s request.
MAP-21 funding levels for highways and transit will be maintained at $41 billion and $8.6 billion, respectively.
Much of the “highway” money can be used by states for transportation projects that aren’t highways.
In recent years Congress has been unable to agree on a budget so funding levels have essentially been frozen in place. Lawmakers then completed various deals and imposed sequesters without much strategy or forethought.
“For the first time since 2011, no mission of our government will be left behind on autopilot,” said Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski in a statement, noting that all 12 sections of the bill are complete.