STAMFORD — A Connecticut senator questioned the head of the U.S. Department of Transportation on Wednesday on a proposed budget that would cut funding for the Northeast Corridor.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., challenged Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao on the cuts, which he said are incongruous with the administration’s own description of the corridor as the “life blood” of the region.
“Help me figure out how I explain to my constituents why we’re going to be levied with these enormous cuts even though the administration seems to recognize that this is a vitally important transportation corridor,” Murphy said, during a meeting of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and other Related Agencies.
Chao responded by saying the cuts are not actually cuts, but rather proposed appropriations that are comparable to previous years.
The Fiscal Year 2020-21 proposed budget calls for roughly $325,000 for Northeast Corridor grants. That’s half of the amount that was enacted in the previous fiscal year, which provided for $650,000 in grant funds.
But, as Chao noted, the budget proposal in Fiscal Year 2019-20 called for only $200,000 even though more was later allocated. Before that, in Fiscal Year 2018-19, the proposed budget for the corridor was $235,000. The enacted amount that year, however, was also $650,000.
Chao said Amtrak, which runs trains along the entire corridor, receives about $1.5 billion overall from the federal government and $325 million for capital needs is consistent with previous budget requests from the White House administration under President Donald Trump.
“Amtrak has more than almost $1 billion in cash if you look at their balance sheet,” she said. “That is still money on the books that they can be drawing down upon as well.”
Murphy said that while the budget proposal may be similar to years past, it still constitutes a cut.
“How we measure cuts is what we got last year versus what we get this year,” he said. “We feel like we have been targeted by this administration and the president for specific cuts in infrastructure funding.”
The proposed $325 would fund infrastructure replacement, payments on Amtrak’s legacy debt, information technology, upgrades and repairs to stations.
The Northeast Corridor is a railroad line that runs from Boston to Washington, D.C., and travels through a number of Connecticut cities, including New Haven and Stamford. The Metro-North Railraod commuter rail service runs through the corridor.
The proposed budget would also eliminate a line item for the State of Good Repair program, a partnership with states and the federal government that was funded at $400,000 in the current fiscal year.
“That is going to make it fairly impossible for us to even maintain the state of good repair on what is the busiest rail corridor in the country,” Murphy said. “We carry about half of the country’s passengers on a stretch of rail that is relatively short compared to the size of the nation. Your budget ... eliminates the State of Good Repair program, which is a federal- and state-match program that benefits us greatly in the Northeast Corridor.”