House Appropriators Incorporate Many of CAGW’s Prime Cuts Recommendations | Citizens Against Government Waste

House Appropriators Incorporate Many of CAGW’s Prime Cuts Recommendations

The WasteWatcher

The House Appropriations Committee has been approving legislation that would significantly cut spending in fiscal year (FY) 2024, which is good news for taxpayers.  The committee has been using recommendations from many sources, including Citizens Against Government Waste’s (CAGW) Prime Cuts, which has been published since 1993.

Approved by the House Appropriations Committee on July 18, 2023, the FY 2024 Transportation and Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies (THUD) Appropriations Act includes five Prime Cuts proposals.  The legislation would reduce Amtrak’s federal subsidy to $876 million, bringing the agency’s funding below its FY 2003 enacted level.  CAGW has long argued for eliminating all subsidies for Amtrak, which would save $2.5 billion over one year and $12.5 billion over five years.

Since Amtrak was created in 1971, it has cost taxpayers more than $40 billion.  The railroad was supposed to earn a profit but has continuously failed to do so.  In some cases, it is less expensive to use other forms of transportation.  A January 2018 Ernst and Young audit found that “the Company has a history of operating losses and is dependent upon substantial Federal Government subsidies to sustain its operations and maintain its underlying infrastructure.”  An August 2012 New York Times article reported that Amtrak had lost $834 million on food service alone since 2002, largely due to employee theft. 

Even the so-called “Father of Amtrak,” Anthony Haswell, also regrets his involvement, stating, “I feel personally embarrassed over what I helped to create.”

The THUD bill integrated three recommendations that appeared in former President Trump’s FY 2021 budget, and which also appear in Prime Cuts.  They include cutting funding for HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods program, saving $185 million in the first year and $925 million over five years.  The Trump budget said of the program that, “State and local governments are better positioned to fund locally driven strategies for neighborhood revitalization.”

The THUD bill would also reduce funding for Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants program by $392 million.  The Trump reduction was intended to focus the grants on the most impactful projects, including those which, “provide the most regionally significant transportation benefits; do not rely heavily on Federal assistance and have substantial, committed State and local funding contributions; and that utilize innovative delivery mechanisms, such as public private partnerships.”  This would save $89 million in the first year and $445 million over five years.

In addition, the THUD bill reduced the HOME Investment Partnership program’s budget to $500 million.  CAGW has recommended eliminating the program entirely, which would save $1.5 billion in the first year and $7.5 billion over five years.  The FY 2021 Trump budget stated, “Complex market dynamics, including stagnant incomes and local regulations that create barriers to housing development, all contribute to housing cost burden for households across the country, and the problem cannot be solved by the Federal Government or the subsidization of housing construction alone.  Moreover, the current system for funding affordable housing is fragmented with varying rules and regulations that create overlap and inefficiencies, as well as challenges to measuring collective performance.”  The document advocated for a great role for state and local governments in addressing affordable housing.

Finally, the committee rejected an amendment to the THUD bill that would have restored funding for California’s High-Speed Rail project.  CAGW has worked for many years to expose the enormous costs and risks associated with high-speed rail.  A September 18, 2008, joint report by CAGW, the Reason Foundation, and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Foundation noted that the California project lacked “a comprehensive financing plan.”  On February 13, 2019, CAGW published a timeline detailing the progress, or lack thereof, to that point.  A February 21, 2021 CAGW article reported on the failure of the project to get on track, with projected costs rising to $100 billion, 23 percent higher than the $81 billion projected in its 2008 report.  Now, the California High-Speed Rail Authority estimates the entire project will cost up to $127.9 billion.

The original plan would have connected Los Angeles to San Francisco, but completing just the Bakersfield-Merced line will cost $35 billion, higher than the original $33 billion budget for the entire system.  Completing a line between Los Angeles and San Francisco is now expected to cost $100 billion, three times greater than the initial projected budget for the entire project.  Of course, there is no timeline for when, if ever, a single line of the project might be completed.

CAGW applauds the House Appropriations Committee for including these cost-saving measures and urges it to incorporate more Prime Cuts recommendations in the other appropriations bills.  These bills would save taxpayers even more money by eliminating earmarks.

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