The House transportation-treasury appropriations subcommittee on July 11 approved a spending bill that provides about $35.3 billion for the federal-aid highway program, up $2.7 billion, or 8%, from the enacted 2003 level.

But to achieve those gains, subcommittee Chairman Ernest J. Istook, Jr., (R-Okla.) made cuts in other programs. One that was hard hit was Amtrak: the measure slashes funds for the passenger rail system by about 44%, to $580 million.

After the measure was approved, Amtrak President David Gunn, who attended the subcommittee session, said of the funding allocation, "It eviscerates the system." Amtrak is seeking $1.8 billion; the Bush administration proposed $900 million.

Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the full Appropriations Committee's top Democrat, said that the measure "is not sufficiently balanced to warrant support at this point." Besides the Amtrak funding, Obey also singled out Istook's decision to cut highway funds for bike paths, "rails-to-trails" and other transportation "enhancement" projects.

Under a reshuffling of appropriations duties this year, the old transportation and Treasury-Postal Service subcommittees have been combined into one panel. The new transportation-treasury subcommittee also has jurisdiction over GSA's construction program. The panel provided about $400 million for GSA new construction, down sharply from this year's $713 million. The subcommittee recommended no money for new courthouses. But it did boost GSA's repairs and alterations account by about 12%, to $1.05 billion.


Obey predicted an "arduous" voting session on July 16 when the bill comes before the full committee. He said he expected "a significant number of amendments" to be offered then.

He also said he thought that the transportation-treasury measure "will be at the top of the ladder in terms of contentiousness."

he first action on transportation appropriations for fiscal 2004 produced good news for highways, but bad news for Amtrak and transit advocates. Results were mixed for General Services Administration building accounts.