WASHINGTON -- As part of the final budget deal formally agreed to on Friday night, the Obama administration signed off on a big cut to a closely held transportation policy priority.
Multiple Hill sources from both parties confirm that the final continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government through the end of September will include a $1.5 billion cut in funds for the planned national high-speed rail system. Jennifer Hing, communications director for the House Appropriations Committee, said that the reduction could actually grow larger as lawmakers negotiate the final language.
“The final agreement will reflect" the $1.5 billion of high-speed rail funds slashed from the temporary CR, Hing wrote in an email to HuffPost, "but that is not to say that it couldn’t be more.”
In signing off on cuts, the Obama administration is taking a major hit to one of the president’s favorite transportation priorities. In the process, he is also giving fodder to critics who have accused the White House’s push for high-speed rail as pie-in-the-sky policy that would fall far short of transforming the nation’s antiquated infrastructure.
Already there have been several Republican governors who have refused to accept federal money to build high-speed rail projects in their states. Florida Gov. Rick Scott turned down $2 billion alone, citing concerns that the state’s portion of the funds would go well beyond projections. That money was, in turn, sent to the Department of Transportation to be awarded to other interested states. Now it appears a good chunk of it will go towards deficit reduction.
The White House was able to secure $8 billion in high-speed rail money in the 2009 stimulus package. The current level of funding was $2.5 billion-a-year. The cuts secured under the budget deal reached on Friday night brings the annual rail dollars down to $1 billion, though administration officials stressed that none of the lost funds would come from existing projects that have received grants.
The president had budgeted $1 billion himself in his 2012 budget proposal but as recently as mid-February 2011, Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood was encouraging Congress to authorize $53 billion over the next six years.