Paul Ryan isn't winning many friends in the business travel community. There are efficiencies to be gained across the federal government, but eliminating Amtrak operating subsidies or terminating Brand USA would be short-sighted and detrimental not only to the travel industry, but to the U.S. economy.
If House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan wants to get started on his Path to Prosperity, he’d better go by horseback because rail or highway transportation wouldn’t be attractive options under his proposed fiscal year 2015 budget plan.
The conservative Republican’s $1.014 trillion budget plan would end Amtrak’s operating subsidies, eliminate Brand USA, reduce federal funding for the TSA, and run the Highway Trust Fund as if it needed to be a profit-making business.
Here are relevant excerpts from the GOP-proposed budget:
Eliminate Funding for Amtrak Operating Subsidies. The budget supports eliminating operating subsidies that have been insulating Amtrak from making the structural reforms necessary to start producing returns. The 1997 Amtrak authorization law required Amtrak to operate free of subsidies by 2002. The budget supports continued reforms for Amtrak as well as reductions in headquarters and administrative costs for agencies.
Terminate Corporation for Travel Promotion. In 2010, Congress established a new annual payment to the travel industry and created a new government agency, the Corporation for Travel Promotion (now called Brand USA), to conduct advertising campaigns encouraging foreign travelers to visit the United States. This budget recommends ending these subsidies and eliminating the new agency because it is not a core responsibility of the federal government to pay for and conduct advertising campaigns for any industry. Moreover, the travel industry can and should pay for the advertising that it benefits from.
Reductions in Transportation Security Agency Funding. Enhanced operational efficiencies can be obtained without compromising security priorities. Recently, wasteful procurement practices led to over $185 million in screening equipment sitting unused in expensive storage facilities. Moreover, TSA has denied applications from airports to opt out of federal screener operations without adequate justification. Applications for private screening that meet security requirements and could improve cost-efficiency goals should be approved expeditiously.
Highway Trust Fund
Ensure Solvency of the Highway Trust Fund. The budget recognizes that the Highway Trust Fund is projected by CBO to run negative balances in fiscal year 2015 under current levels of spending. By existing law and cash-management practices, the Department of Transportation would need to slow down or reduce spending upon the exhaustion of trust-fund balances. Congress needs to reform this critically important trust fund to put it on a sound financial footing without further bailouts that increase the deficit.
Photo credit: Amtrak's high speed Acela at Washington's Union Station seen after U.S. Vice President Joe Biden announced in Philadelphia that the U.S. government will dedicate $53 billion over six years to build new high-speed rail networks and make existing ones faster, February 8, 2011. Larry Downing / Reuters