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To the NARP Council and Board,
The White House is expected to release a “skinny budget”—a general budget outline with few programmatic details—either this week or the next. Since the Trump Administration is both understaffed and—seemingly—uninterested in immersing themselves in the fine details of budget policy, the skinny budget will likely be modeled on a Heritage Foundation budget proposal. That means it may include a lot of “zero outs” for programs we care about—such as the total elimination of the mass transit account from the Surface Transportation Trust Fund over a five year period, which Heritage has called for in the past.
If that happens, the White House will rely on Congress to moderate the bill and turn it into legislation actually capable of passing the Senate. In these situations, Congress looks to see which cuts produce the most pushback from advocacy groups, local officials, and members of the public to gauge where cuts can be made.
Passenger advocates MUST be ready to push back hard.
With that in mind, now is the time to launch into the March phase of NARP’s 2017 advocacy agenda. As a reminder (full agenda included at the foot of this email):
March Agenda Items
Successful advocacy is more than passing along the stats and figures NARP has compiled. In his latest Passenger Train Journal article, NARP’s Jim Mathews reminds us that numbers numb, and stories sell. I’ve included the article below, and I can encourage you to read it as you prepare to talk with your officials.
As the Council gears up for its mayoral outreach, I also wanted to highlight a few February success stories that were shared with me by your fellow NARP leadership:
I’m sure there are more advocacy stories out there—please email them into me so I can pass them along to the general membership.
Sean Jeans-Gail | Vice President – Policy & Government Affairs
There Are No Sidelines In Uncertain Times
By Jim Mathews | President & CEO, National Association of Railroad Passengers
As I write this, the nation has just inaugurated a new President and passenger rail is entering a period of great uncertainty. There are conflicting messages coming from the transportation transition team, the House, the Senate and various agencies, with statements both supportive of passenger rail investment and very negative.
Here is what IS certain: even though passenger rail is more popular now than it has been in the past 10 years, passenger rail initiatives have been under increasing and baseless attack in recent months. This is not just about Amtrak; some ranchers in Texas don’t like the wholly private Texas Central Railway project, Silicon Valley millionaires would rather see taxpayers build $158 billion in roads in the vain hope of easing congestion than investing $68 billion in a high-speed rail link; bike riders in New York State think the Adirondack Scenic Railroad is a waste of space. The list goes on.
That those attacks take place in the face of rail’s growing popularity is baffling. Overlooked in this past fall’s election cycle is the reality that American voters approved 69 percent of local and statewide public transit measures, representing nearly $200 billion in public-transportation investment. In California, Bay Area voters approved $3.5 billion for the BART commuter rail system and Los Angelenos voted to tax themselves to help LA Metro fund its $120 billion mobility plan, which includes expansion of the rail system. In Colorado, Pueblo County voters approved Measure 1A, part of which will fund work to continue and extend Amtrak’s Southwest Chief service. Seattle residents approved a big transit package that includes commuter train service, folks in Atlanta approved a half-penny increase for the MARTA commuter rail service that will raise millions of dollars.
It’s clear that voters want and are willing to pay for passenger rail and mobility in all its forms – intercity passenger rail, commuter rail, private operators, taxpayer-supported projects, light rail, streetcars, links between bikes and trains and airplanes and trains, good bus service and everything in-between. That consensus is why we were able to get prominent Republicans on board with support for passenger rail through the passage of the FAST Act. Mobility and access to transportation are vital economic enablers, and legislators on both sides of the aisle recognized that and voted overwhelmingly to support it.
There is some evidence, however, that the transition team on transportation intends to lean on a Heritage Foundation report for much of its federal rail policy. That report recommends zeroing the Amtrak budget, auctioning off the long-distance routes and shutting down those that can’t sell. Nobody knows if this will be the official Administration policy. But if it is, you can bet that only the most potentially lucrative services would be sold and the vital transportation links in hundreds of communities across the country would be severed, leaving many rural, elderly and disabled travelers with no options.
My blunt message: if you care about passenger rail, it’s time for you to get off the sidelines. Because the attacks are about to get louder and the facts are likely to take a beating.
If you love what Ed Ellis has been doing on the Hoosier State in Indiana, tell your Congressman and your Senator and your local legislators and mayors. If you want to see Texas Central Railway succeed in launching a privately financed high-speed rail line in Texas, send a message to your Congressman, Senators, legislators, mayors and other officials. If you want to take a clean, fast and modern Brightline from Miami to Orlando, make sure your local officials and elected representatives know. And if you want to make sure there’s still an Amtrak to provide vital services where nobody else can or is willing to do so, then call, write or visit your Congressman and Senators. And then do it again. Become a presence and ask your friends to do the same. While you’re at it, share those stories with us at NARP by emailing email@example.com.
Nobody knows what the exact policies will be and which ones will support rail and which will hamper it. So instead of worrying about what we’re against, let’s work hard to support what we know we’re already for. Whatever your favorite rail project – high-speed/high-performance, long-distance intercity rail, commuter trains, light-rail, transit, robust multimodal links – it’s time to stand up and be counted. We need every voice now, including yours.
Advocacy Outline & Budget Calendar
NARP Agenda Items
NARP Agenda Items
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