Obama's fast rail proposal a transit boondoggle

Ed Lasky
President Obama has proposed billions for a speedy train project that might run right through  his home state of Illinois - home also of the powerful Democratic Senator Dick Durbin and that of Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood. This is being billed  as a stimulus measure and , of course, has all the requisite green energy checkmarks.

Does anyone in Washignton have a memory of what a fiscal albatross Amtrak has become? If not, they might also peruse what a fiscal train wreck has been created by commuter lines across America. Chicago has a third world class commuter system that has been bailed out repeatedly by the taxpayers of Illinois. The transit systems end up being run inefficiently because they become sources of featherbedding. Also, politicians use them as places to absorb partisan hires. Then there are the unions that give employees unaffordable contracts that allow them to retire at a young age with golden parachute pensions that are legally required to be paid by taxpayers.

These pension obligations become a black cloud over municipal finances. The government-or their legal proxies,the train authorities - engage in budget gimmicks that may merely postpone or sometimes make worse these financial problems. In the end, taxpayers are left holding the bag, as always.

Case in point: the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority. This has been a major problem for New York City commuters and taxpayers. Yet the government keeps bailing out the authority, and its unionized workers who periodically threaten to shut down the city unless their extravagant demands are met.

New York City has a terminal problem with the Metropolitan Transit Authority, as outlined in a series of articles by Nicole Gelinas in the New York Post . Her latest:

HOW long will Albany stand by as the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority torments itself and the economy with desperation measures?

Yesterday, the MTA decided to give itself 18 months to rebalance its current annual budget -- just this once, it said. (State law requires the MTA to balance its budget annually.)

This means the MTA is seeking to borrow money from next year to cover some of this year's budget. That would include doing such things as asking partners (like advertisers) to pay now instead of next year. The MTA could also borrow outright against next year's cash.

It would be one thing if the MTA were making such an extraordinary move at a time it was doing other extraordinary things that would help in closing the gap. For example, Sander et. al. could sound the alarm that the MTA must get pension and health-benefit reforms from Albany to become solvent.

But it's clear that the MTA is terrified of its unionized workforce, and for good reason. At a hearing yesterday, one station agent openly threatened the MTA board and the public, saying, "If you are going to lay us off, we are going to shut you down."

President Obama has proposed billions for a speedy train project that might run right through  his home state of Illinois - home also of the powerful Democratic Senator Dick Durbin and that of Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood. This is being billed  as a stimulus measure and , of course, has all the requisite green energy checkmarks.

Does anyone in Washignton have a memory of what a fiscal albatross Amtrak has become? If not, they might also peruse what a fiscal train wreck has been created by commuter lines across America. Chicago has a third world class commuter system that has been bailed out repeatedly by the taxpayers of Illinois. The transit systems end up being run inefficiently because they become sources of featherbedding. Also, politicians use them as places to absorb partisan hires. Then there are the unions that give employees unaffordable contracts that allow them to retire at a young age with golden parachute pensions that are legally required to be paid by taxpayers.

These pension obligations become a black cloud over municipal finances. The government-or their legal proxies,the train authorities - engage in budget gimmicks that may merely postpone or sometimes make worse these financial problems. In the end, taxpayers are left holding the bag, as always.

Case in point: the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority. This has been a major problem for New York City commuters and taxpayers. Yet the government keeps bailing out the authority, and its unionized workers who periodically threaten to shut down the city unless their extravagant demands are met.

New York City has a terminal problem with the Metropolitan Transit Authority, as outlined in a series of articles by Nicole Gelinas in the New York Post . Her latest:

HOW long will Albany stand by as the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority torments itself and the economy with desperation measures?

Yesterday, the MTA decided to give itself 18 months to rebalance its current annual budget -- just this once, it said. (State law requires the MTA to balance its budget annually.)

This means the MTA is seeking to borrow money from next year to cover some of this year's budget. That would include doing such things as asking partners (like advertisers) to pay now instead of next year. The MTA could also borrow outright against next year's cash.

It would be one thing if the MTA were making such an extraordinary move at a time it was doing other extraordinary things that would help in closing the gap. For example, Sander et. al. could sound the alarm that the MTA must get pension and health-benefit reforms from Albany to become solvent.

But it's clear that the MTA is terrified of its unionized workforce, and for good reason. At a hearing yesterday, one station agent openly threatened the MTA board and the public, saying, "If you are going to lay us off, we are going to shut you down."