If approved as-is, a federal budget proposal for the 2021 fiscal year released Monday, Feb. 10, by President Donald Trump would reduce funding for Amtrak, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and underfund the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB).
Amtrak, the national passenger rail carrier, would see a 50 percent reduction in funding from the 2020 budget, with long-distance routes again in jeopardy of losing federal funding.
“Despite Amtrak’s success and the critical service it offers to so many, President Trump’s budget would slash funding for Amtrak by more than half,” the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD), of which SMART-TD is a member, said on Twitter. “These proposed cuts would apply to the Northeast Corridor, the busiest rail corridor in the country, and Amtrak’s broader national network, which serves low population areas.”
The low-population areas would include Kansas, Montana, Wyoming, and Arizona and, according to the administration, “would be better served by other modes of transportation like — wait for it — intercity buses,” TTD tweeted.
Amtrak has been a frequent target of the administration, with Trump seeking to cut funding for the national rail carrier every year he has been in office. The future of long-distance routes such as the Southwest Chief was jeopardized in 2018, and it took an outcry by legislators in both houses of Congress to preserve the routes through the 2019 fiscal year while the FAST Act, which expires this autumn, preserved it in fiscal year 2020.
The FRA, which has received about $3 billion in the past two Trump-era budgets, is targeted for nearly $1 billion in reductions.
In contrast, funding for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) would increase by $300 million to $13.2 billion.
Finally, the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) would be underfunded if Trump’s proposed budget goes through, board sources say.
The RRB requests $141,974,000 for administrative costs and $13,850,000 to help fund its IT upgrade efforts for a total of $155,824,000. The request will support 880 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff.
However, the president’s budget requests $114,500,000 for administrative and $5,725,000 for IT for a total of $120,225,000. The President’s budget would only support 672 FTE, which is 208 less than the agency’s request level and 119 less than the current level of 791 FTE.
The agency’s budget through the Trump administration’s term has remained flat at $113.5 million annually with an additional $10 million provided each year to help RRB’s efforts to modernize its IT infrastructure. Trump proposes to allocate $120.225 million to the agency in the next fiscal year.
“RRB needs a minimum of 880 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff to sustain mission critical operations. Stagnant administrative budgets coupled with cost-of-living salary increases for Federal employees have resulted in severe understaffing,” a message from RRB’s Office of the Labor Member said. “The impact of this understaffing is being felt in the agency’s customer service and its ability to accomplish mission critical goals.”
It stands to note that presidential budget proposals typically serve as a starting point for Congress as its members begin the task of setting the fiscal course for the country in an election year and rarely, if ever, are approved without alterations.
“The good news about the president’s budget would be that it will most assuredly be dead on arrival in the U.S. House,” SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes said.
However, the proposed budget does serve as an indicator of where the administration’s budgetary priorities are.