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Threat to Amtrak's future should not be taken lightly



Published: Sun, February 10, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



A classic guns vs. butter battle is shaping up in Washington over President Bush's 2003 budget, but while no one on Capitol Hill opposes the huge increases in spending for the military and homeland defense, the proposed cuts in domestic programs puts Bush on a collision course with some Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

Indeed, on Thursday, just three days after the president's $2.13 trillion spending blueprint was unveiled, lawmakers in the House and Senate introduced legislation to restore money for highway construction. Their contention: the $8.1 billion cut in funding for road construction would result in the loss of thousands of jobs. It is estimated that $1 billion spent on highways creates 40,000 jobs. Pennsylvania, for example, would lose 14,500 jobs under Bush's highway construction budget.

Closer to home, the president's decision to ignore Amtrak's request for $1.2 billion in the 2003 budget and allocate $521 million, the same amount as the last three years, has prompted a warning from the sole provider of intercity passenger train travel.

Amtrak officials have said Ohio would be eliminated from its routes, which include stops in Youngstown. The consequences of such a decision cannot be exaggerated.

But the discontinuation of Amtrak's service goes beyond creating problems for Ohioans who depend on passenger rail transportation. At a time when airline travel has fallen sharply as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center twin towers in New York City and the Pentagon, passenger rail service has become more important than ever. The terrorists used fuel-laden commercial jet aircraft as missiles.

Reality check: President Bush and his economic advisers need to consider this reality as they work with Congress to develop the final version of the 2003 budget.

But given the American public's overwhelming support for the war on terrorism and for programs to make the United States safe from terrorist attacks, is it possible to balance the demand for guns and the demand for butter? We believe it is -- through a reordering of priorities.

As an example, the administration is requesting $7.8 billion for the newly formed Missile Defense Agency, which has responsibility for overseeing President Bush's "Star Wars" initiative. Bush insists that the United States needs a shield to stop missiles loaded with nuclear weapons from entering our airspace. Since the technology is still in the testing stages, we believe that the Missile Defense Agency's allocation should be slashed and the money saved used for other important domestic programs.




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