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THIS WEEK FROM WASHINGTON
U.S. House Approves $47 Billion Transportation Spending Measure


HOUSE APPROVES AMTRAK 609M


Washington, July 30 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. House approved a $46.9 billion Transportation Department spending bill for next year that includes $609 million to help keep Amtrak running. The bill, approved by a vote of 391-25, provides $54 million more for the struggling passenger railroad than similar legislation in the Senate, though it's still $12 million less than the Clinton administration requested.

Resolving Differences

Negotiators from the two chambers must now meet to resolve differences in the two measures and agree on a level of funding for Amtrak and other programs. The House-Senate conference will also have to decide whether to accept a provision in the Senate version of the bill, sought by Illinois Democratic Senator Richard Durbin, that would extend a virtual ban on smoking on domestic flights to include all flights -- including those operated by non-U.S. carriers -- that touch down on U.S. soil. Smoking is banned on U.S. domestic flights under six hours in duration and most U.S. airlines already prohibit smoking on many international flights.

Legislators complained that they had little leeway in crafting this year's transportation spending bill because of restraints imposed by the six-year, multibillion dollar highway and mass transit measure enacted earlier this year. Appropriators provided $26.7 billion for highway construction and improvements promised in the bill, an increase of 20 percent over this year. Mass transit programs will get $5.365 billion, about $521 million more than fiscal 1998.

House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican, said the earlier highway and transit bill mandated certain levels of spending for those programs that made it ``virtually impossible'' to reduce highway spending. Last year, Congress agreed to provide Amtrak with $2.2 billion for capital improvements over four years to help it reach self-sufficiency. That legislation allows Congress to end support for Amtrak in 2002.

Capital Investments

The $609 million for Amtrak in the House bill is intended solely for capital investments, such as new locomotives and cars and track improvements. The Senate bill, which provides $555 million for Amtrak, includes a broader definition of capital expenses to let Amtrak use some of the money to pay for items that have traditionally been defined as operating expenses, such as doing electrical overhauls or toilet replacements on existing cars.

The stricter definition of capital investment in the House bill often forces the railroad to overhaul or even replace an entire car rather than make cheaper repairs to avoid dipping into limited operating funds. The railroad will push for the Senate definition of capital investments when House and Senate negotiators sit down to resolve differences.

Congress has funded Amtrak since it was created in 1971, providing more than $19 billion. Nonetheless, the railroad continues to lose money. It is expected to post an $845 million loss this year, according to a recent General Accounting Office report.

The House bill includes $3.9 billion for Coast Guard activities, $29 million less than this year. Of that, House appropriators favor spending $406 million for drug enforcement activities in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, an increase of almost $74 million.

The Federal Aviation Administration would receive nearly $9.5 billion in the House bill, up from about $9.1 billion this year. Of that, $1.8 billion would go for new construction and improvements at U.S. airports, up from $1.7 billion. The Senate bill includes $9.8 billion for FAA activities and $2.1 billion for airport construction and improvements.

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09:36 hours
07/30/1998
reprint permission pending


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====>>>>TEXT OF LETTER FROM SENATORS


Last Updated 07/30/98 19:59 hrs. EST



INDEX OF RECENT UPDATES

Senate Approves Bill & Letter from A. Haswell

Getting Closer

STB APPROVES FUNDING

Was Not Looking Good Again For Amtrak Here

Surface Transportation Board Update

CLINTON HOLDS BACK

CEO REPLACEMENT

DOWNS RESIGNS

Week of 12/05/97

CLINTON SIGNS BILL

SUMMARY OF PROVISIONS



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