Murray Urges Investment in Transportation Infrastructure in Fiscal Year 2004 Budget

Mar 13 2003

Questions Amtrak funding levels, urges reorganization of airline security funding

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - At today's markup of the fiscal year 2004 budget, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) urged greater investment in America's transportation infrastructure. Murray focused on the needs of Amtrak, highways and the aviation industry in her statement before the Budget Committee.

Murray's statement follows:

"Mr. Chairman, as the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury and General Government, I want to make some brief remarks regarding the inadequate level of funding in your proposed budget for the transportation function. I expect to join with a number of my colleagues to try to rectify this shortfall in transportation funding when this Budget Resolution reaches the Senate floor.

As all Senators know, this year the Congress is scheduled to reauthorize the TEA-21 surface transportation law. This will be an enormous task for four separate Senate authorizing committees. It will require a great deal of resources if we are to be able to develop a consensus package that will get on and off the Senate floor. This bill includes resources not just for highways, but for highway safety and mass transit.

I note that the Chairman has included a reserve fund in his budget resolution that would allow the funding level for highway construction to grow if additional revenues are found by the Environment and Public Works Committee. However, the resolution, I would point out, includes no companion adjustment for the Banking Committee and the needs of mass transit or the Commerce Committee and the needs of highway safety. I cannot figure out why we would engage in such unequal treatment when it comes to addressing all of our transportation needs.

Also, on the matter of Amtrak, this resolution recommends that the railroad be funded at the President's recommended level of $900 million. I would point out, that is a 15% cut below the level we just enacted for fiscal year 2003. At the level recommended in this Budget Resolution, Amtrak maintains that they will enter bankruptcy sometime early next year. I appreciate that the Administration has stated that Amtrak needs to be reformed, and I am one Senator who believes there are some reforms that are needed down at Amtrak.

But at the same time, the Administration has been talking about reforms for two years while refusing to actually submit a reauthorization bill. That bill was due at the beginning of last year. The Administration talks a good game on Amtrak reforms, but isn't willing to put George Bush's signature on real proposals that might result in Amtrak routes being eliminated. So I hope before we buy into this funding level of $900 million for Amtrak, we first ask the Administration precisely how they expect Amtrak to operate at that funding level. To date, they haven't told us.

Finally, I want to raise the issue of the condition of our aviation industry. Our nation's airlines have never been in more dire financial condition. We could be entering a period, especially once the war breaks out, when every major hub-and-spoke airline in our country is either operating in bankruptcy or on the brink of bankruptcy. The downturn in the airline industry has already had major ripple effects on many other elements of our economy. I am not just talking about aircraft manufacturers like Boeing. I am talking about our hotels, our travel agencies and many other elements of our economy. I believe that this Congress is going to have to face up to the need to restructure the way that we finance our airline security costs in this country and provide our airlines with some relief.

While there is nothing in this budget to accommodate this relief, there is a new funding cap on discretionary spending for 2003 that could require a super majority vote for any supplemental appropriation in the non-defense area. When we take up the war supplemental later this spring, I hope we will not face a Republican effort to say that additional funding for the war is an emergency but additional funding for homeland security is not. Under this proposed budget resolution, any emergency supplemental appropriation for the war will not be subject to a 60 vote point of order but any supplemental appropriation for homeland security will be subject to a 60 vote point of order. When we take up the Supplemental, I hope my Republican colleagues will remember that this is a war with two fronts and one of those fronts is right here at home. I hope the entire Senate will recognize that critical security investments will be needed here in the United States including some relief for our airlines and their employees."