Funding Discussion - Amtrak DC Politics RELATED TO RAIL!

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Funding Discussion - Amtrak DC Politics RELATED TO RAIL!

Postby Jeff Smith » Wed Jun 24, 2015 2:58 pm

Found this article off an e-newsletter I get; I thought we could TRY to set up a general discussion thread on funding issues. I searched previous threads, but there was nothing really current, and would be hash-rehash.

Ground Rules:

1. None of the "you guys" or "these guys". Let's avoid generalizations. We know "generally" that the GOP wants to cut, and the Democrats want to fund. There are of course exceptions based upon who wants what in their district. As John Perkowski is fond of saying, it's 435+100+1 voting.
2. Let's try to keep the conversation to current developments in funding, funding priorities, capital vs. operating budgets, certain corridor funding needs, etc.
3. Ad hominem and abusive posts will be deleted without notice and subject to warning and/or suspension, ban, etc. just like everything else. Keep the passion and argue, but limit the hyperbole'.

Anyway, here what's prompted the attempt at the topic:

PHILLY.COM

I generally like Booker. There's not much meat to the article, but I like the concept as it would eliminate uncertainty.

NOTICE a co-author of the bill is a REPUBLICAN FROM MISSISSIPPI.

Brief, fair-use quote:

Booker bill would increase $$ for Amtrak, Northeast Corridor

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - New legislation proposed by New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker would increase funding for Amtrak and set up an annual stream of grant funding that could be used to make improvements to the aging Northeast corridor.

Booker and fellow Sen. Bob Menendez discussed the legislation Monday at Newark's Penn Station.

Introduced by Booker and Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the bill would give Amtrak $1.65 billion per year for the next four years.

...

Booker's bill also would make available $570 million in grant funding every year. Booker says that money could be used for projects to alleviate congestion on the Northeast corridor.
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Re: Funding Discussion

Postby Jeff Smith » Wed Jun 24, 2015 3:03 pm

Another legislative development: The Hill

Not a lot of particulars in this article, either. This all comes out in the horse-trading of conference. I'd be interested as to what the "reforms" are.

Brief, fair-use quote:

Senate bill would give Amtrak nearly $1.4 billion

A Senate bill to fund transportation and housing programs would provide Amtrak with nearly $1.4 billion next year, much more than the amount allocated by the House, according to a summary prepared by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The bill, the text of which has not yet been released, contains $289 million for Amtrak operations and $1.1 billion for capital grants to the rail service.

Appropriators reported the bill out of subcommittee Tuesday.
Nearly two months after the deadly derailment on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, the bill provides an additional $17 million to that route and for reforms to the agency. Several members of the Appropriations panel live along that route.
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Re: Funding Discussion

Postby georgewerr » Wed Jun 24, 2015 5:30 pm

I would like to see a gas tax increase, A fare tax on both bus's and train's and then allow Amtrak to apply for the same 80/20 split funding that states can apply for roads from the highway trust fund. Our highways are crumbling, our NEC is crumbling and there is not enough money from current funds to catch up. if there is a fare tax on both Amtrak and Buses this spreads the cost to all user's. with hybrids and electric cars coming the current gas tax is not enough now and it's getting worse every year. Congress ( both sides ) will not work together to allow something like this to work. Without a little pain from Amtrak (fare tax) the opponents have a good argument but with a fare tax then Amtrak is contributing into fund and would get something back from it. but we are so far behind it would need to be a decent tax hike on gas. I'm thinking with no real math in the line of a 15-25 cents increase.

Transportation need's to be supported across the all forms not just road's. and we here all the time about road user's paying there way. We know they no dot fully pay through gas tax but a large percentage do believe they do. and if we contribute then we all should have use of these fund's. I hear the same argument all the time how bicycle's do not pay there full share and should stay off the roads. but that for a different forum.

While at it we could include Airlines also but that does not need to be.
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Re: Funding Discussion

Postby georgewerr » Wed Jun 24, 2015 5:34 pm

Jeff Smith wrote:Another legislative development: The Hill

Not a lot of particulars in this article, either. This all comes out in the horse-trading of conference. I'd be interested as to what the "reforms" are.

Brief, fair-use quote:

Senate bill would give Amtrak nearly $1.4 billion

A Senate bill to fund transportation and housing programs would provide Amtrak with nearly $1.4 billion next year, much more than the amount allocated by the House, according to a summary prepared by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The bill, the text of which has not yet been released, contains $289 million for Amtrak operations and $1.1 billion for capital grants to the rail service.

Appropriators reported the bill out of subcommittee Tuesday.
Nearly two months after the deadly derailment on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, the bill provides an additional $17 million to that route and for reforms to the agency. Several members of the Appropriations panel live along that route.


Several members live along that route, I wonder if they use the train. would be nice to have a few congressman using this service, could help change some minds on the hill.
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Re: Funding Discussion

Postby Greg Moore » Wed Jun 24, 2015 5:50 pm

I want to say this about "those guys" and "my guys" etc.

While in general I think one can in recent years point to the GOP as the party of cuts (pretty much across the board) the truth is when I've looked at it, Amtrak generally gets "purple" support.

Generally the areas not well served by Amtrak want to cut it, and those who are served by it (even it's just one LD train a day) seem to want to preserve it. And some states traditionally considered "red" have greatly expanded Amtrak service (I'm looking at you Virginia).

So I have to say I generally agree with the original comment, unless you're talking a specific politician or specific policies, breaking Amtrak funding into red vs. blue is not only often a non-starter, it's often wrong and often ends up being confrontational.

In general, this country absolutely needs to invest in infrastructure. You look at any strong country around the world, and you see a strong infrastructure.
Our Interstate (and Defense, people seem to forget that part) Highway system was an integral part of the late post WWII economic boom. The ability to easily ship goods and people anywhere made a huge difference. It really is one of the greatest engineering feats of the modern era. And now it's crumbling.

We once led the world in railroading, including early attempts at HSR. Now countries we wouldn't think of, such as Spain out pace us in the area of HSR.

Just as the government once funded the National Road and other initiatives, I think it's incumbent to continue to fund major transportation initiatives.

And yes, the gas tax is a problem. The Highway Trust Fund no longer covers its expenses. $35B has been infused into it in the last decade.

It's time to raise the gas tax.
One thing I'd do is raise is 2-3 cents a gallon.
1 penny a gallon to go directly into the highway trust fund directly for highways.
1 penny additional to a general mass transit fund.
1 penny additional penny for any gas station within 50 miles of an Amtrak station. This money would go directly to funding Amtrak and improving and increasing service.

That's a broad brush, but a general idea. The argument for the last penny is only to charge areas where they benefit from Amtrak, and to increase its usability.
For example, in the NEC especially if we could continue to get more cars off of I-95 and free up more local airline flight slots at the major airports we'd be better off. Things would flow more smoothly on the highway and the airlines could open up their slots to longer distance traffic, where they really are the better deal.
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Re: Funding Discussion

Postby electricron » Wed Jun 24, 2015 7:07 pm

I recommend killing all gas taxes and replacing it with another tax.
How much do gas taxes generate as revenue today?
Around $28 Billion during FY 2008. I assume the funds collected today are about the same.

How many new cars and trucks are sold in the USA?
Around 16 million

I suggest an additional $2000 average tax for every new car and truck sold be the replacement tax. The new car tax could be ratio by weight or by gas mileage. Spread that $2000 tax over the average 5 year loan, that's just $400 per year, about $30 per month for your car's payment bill.

For comparison purposes, the average American drives a car 16550 miles a year, with an average gas mileage of 25 miles per gallon (2015 new car), with a Federal gas tax around 18 cents per gallon. That averages $119 in gas tax per year.
Math = 16550 / 25 x 0.18 = 119.16.

Of course trucks and vehicles used 10-12 hours a day see far higher gas consumption and pay far more in gas taxes than the average American. That's why I suggest a ratio be used earlier by expected usage.

Another alternative tax is to charge by miles driven. A penny per mile would raise more funds than gas taxes do today for the average American. Vehicles, such as semi-trucks averaging less than 10 mpg could be charged 2 to 3 cents per mile.

Whereas taxing by mile may seem fairer, taxing by vehicle spreads the taxes out over many years with smaller payments.

The whole exercise I have made is to show that we can pay for highways and transit using a different tax. Gas taxes can be replaced if we choose to do so.
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Re: Funding Discussion

Postby Greg Moore » Wed Jun 24, 2015 7:21 pm

I don't disagree with the premise, but don't think in this political environment that's at all feasible.
Trying to convince folks to pay $2K more on a car... would never pass.
Or trying to convince folks to let the government know how much a year they drive... not going to happen (though with car registrations in some states I suppose the government already has some idea).

I think one thing in favor of adding to the gas tax, to encourage folks to more efficient forms of transportation (higher MPG, more mass transit, electric cars, etc.)

But yes, eventually it has to be replaced. But this country as a whole seems to want to avoid new taxes.
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Re: Funding Discussion

Postby georgewerr » Wed Jun 24, 2015 7:37 pm

I have no problem paying taxes and fee's but want something in return, perfect example is NYC - you go over the George Washington bridge there is a $14 toll but the bridge looks like its going to fall down do to no maintenance and upkeep. I feel sorry for those that go over it every day.
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Re: Funding Discussion

Postby David Benton » Thu Jun 25, 2015 1:13 am

If you want some comparison to make you feel better, We pay around USD $1.80 per US gallon tax on gas, here in New Zealand. the largest Trucks on the road pay around USD 40 cents per mile road user charge. ( they do not also pay the per gallon tax).Quite extensive studies were done to come up with these amounts , especially for trucks, with the large amount of damage they do to our fragile roads.
Nobody really complains, you get abit of talkback when the rates go up, but they soon get used to it.
The per gallon figure includes around 20 cents per US gallon compulsory accident compensation insursance, If you come to NZ and have a accident on your vacation, all medical costs are covered by this.

note ; all amounts are converted by me at the end of a long day , from litres to to US gallons, from kilometres to miles, and from NZD to USD.But , I believe they are correct or close to it.
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Re: Funding Discussion

Postby Rockingham Racer » Thu Jun 25, 2015 5:30 am

I find it interesting that air tickets have a tax, but other modes of transportation do not. Why is that?
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Re: Funding Discussion

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Thu Jun 25, 2015 5:49 am

Mr. Rockingham, the various taxes levied upon air travel all relate to use of the Federally funded airways, traffic control, security, and, levied by the local authorities, passenger facilities, i.e. that potty you stop at after a flight. Assessed directly against the airlines are landing fees by the airport authorities.

The taxes on air travel are "broken out" on a ticket receipt.

Motor vehicles are "taxed at the pump" for highway use. Municipalities such as mine impose a tax for each vehicle a resident operates over streets maintained at that level.

Rail transport is exempt from use taxes as the ROW's are owned within the private sector (Amtrak putting on its "private hat" in this case).
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Re: Funding Discussion

Postby JCGUY » Thu Jun 25, 2015 8:26 am

The idea to tax car purchases can be applied justly to electric and high mpg cars. Those vehicles cause no less wear and tear on the roads, but pay little or no gas taxes towards highway upkeep. Imposing a modest excise tax of 1% or so on the purchase price of cars that achieve over 40 mpg would be a way to even out the bill a bit (i.e., $200 on a $20,000 car). Owners of those kinds of vehicles would come out ahead because their ultimate fuel bills over the life of the car will be so much lower.
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Re: Funding Discussion

Postby Greg Moore » Thu Jun 25, 2015 8:32 am

Gilbert B Norman wrote:Mr. Rockingham, the various taxes levied upon air travel all relate to use of the Federally funded airways, traffic control, security, and, levied by the local authorities, passenger facilities, i.e. that potty you stop at after a flight. Assessed directly against the airlines are landing fees by the airport authorities.

The taxes on air travel are "broken out" on a ticket receipt.

Motor vehicles are "taxed at the pump" for highway use. Municipalities such as mine impose a tax for each vehicle a resident operates over streets maintained at that level.

Rail transport is exempt from use taxes as the ROW's are owned within the private sector (Amtrak putting on its "private hat" in this case).


Also the fact that in the case of Amtrak having a tax would similar to Amtrak simply raising its fares. A federal tax on Amtrak tickets would go back to the Feds and into Amtrak's pockets (or rail projects). So makes little sense here.
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Re: Funding Discussion

Postby jonnhrr » Thu Jun 25, 2015 11:16 am

I would favor leveling the playing field a bit both between modes and among highway drivers by keeping the gas tax but only using it for state and local roads, then making all interstates and state expressways toll roads. Currently if you live in the Boston Metro area for example, if you live west of the city you pay a toll to use the MA turnpike but if you live north or south of the city you get a "free" ride via I-93 or MA 3. This would remove this inequity as well as making rail travel more appealing once people have to pay directly for their ride. With the current EZ-Pass system and open road tolling this would be relatively painless. Mail everyone a transponder, cameras and bills sent in the mail with a surcharge take care of anyone that refuses to use it.

This is the de facto situation here in Southern/Central Maine where we only have 1 "expressway" I-95 which is tolled as far as Augusta and if you don't like the tolls there are back roads.

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Re: Funding Discussion

Postby BandA » Thu Jun 25, 2015 10:41 pm

David Benton wrote:note ; all amounts are converted by me at the end of a long day , from litres to to US gallons, from kilometres to miles, and from NZD to USD.But , I believe they are correct or close to it.
Thank you very much David!
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