Amtrak is a boondoggle and the Orlando-Tampa train will be too
By Mike Matteo
Some politicians are like drug addicts when it comes to being enticed by federal funds for government projects: they feel good for the short term but fail to consider long term consequences. After the fallout from governor Scott’s decision to walk away from federal dollars earmarked for Florida’s high-speed rail system, the criticism of many politicians centered around two convoluted opinions: 1) Florida would be losing thousands of jobs. 2) If we don’t accept it “our” money will be sent to other states to finance their high-speed rails. Most of this criticism has come from career politicians who are completely clueless when it comes to fiscal responsibility. Yesterday, Tampa’s mayor, Pam Iorio, made a statement that voters “didn’t understand the big picture.” Sorry, Mrs. Mayor, you are the one who fails to understand the big picture, so let me paint it for you by examining the first 25 years of a very similar project that has become a cash monstrosity for taxpayers: Amtrak.
The CATO institute did a study in 1995 (25 years after Amtrak was created) to illustrate what a disastrous decision this piece of pork became for those who are still paying big bucks to keep it running.
FACT: During the first 25 years that Amtrak operated the federal government provided over 13 billion dollars in federal capital to pay for expenses.
FACT: Between 1971 and 1981, federal appropriations to support Amtrak rose from $140 million to $850 million annually. In the 1990’s the subsidies climbed to over 1 billion per year.
FACT: In 1995 (the 25th year of operation) Amtrak’s revenues were only 63 percent of the total cost to keep the train running, while 37 percent came from taxpayer dollars.
In business, the goal is simple: make a profit or close your doors. When Ford realized that the Edsel was a major mistake they didn’t spend the next 41 years making them at a loss. What part of this is so difficult for the average politician to understand? Unlike the federal government, businesses cannot sustain indefinite long-term losses and simply borrow (or rob) from Peter to pay Paul.
There is a long list of examples to show that Amtrak was a terrible decision and that if it were in the private sector it would have gone bankrupt long ago. Is this what any of us want for Florida 25 years from now?
This scenario is a microcosm of why America is deeply in debt and the value of our dollars diminishes year after year. Elected officials continue to spend ten dollars for every two that they earn in revenue. The glaring example of the first 25 years of Amtrak’s financial failures is obvious to anyone who has taken the time to look at it. Why would anyone want to impose the same unending, long term, hardship on the taxpayers?
No one will argue that adding jobs to help Florida’s ailing economy would be a good thing, however, we must consider the consequences of future costs. I applaud governor Scott for turning down the quick fix and realizing that in a state where people are trained to get into their cars to go where they need to go, it would be futile to spend billions of dollars for a train that will most likely not be used by most Floridians. It is time that politicians understand that “debt” is a four letter word and, instead of continuing to put our country at financial risk they “just say no” to spending tax dollars frivolously.
Mike Matteo is a resident of Tampa, Florida and was a public and private high school teacher who taught classes in economics, history, psychology and philosophy. Mike owned a business in Tampa for 19 years, has written screenplays, stage plays and works with students to improve their SAT, ACT and FCAT scores. He has also written or co-authored three books, including one on education. E-mail him at: email@example.com.
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