Rail service at your fingertips amid spending surge | News, Sports, Jobs

State officials raise the prospect of new passenger train lines and expanded service across the state, citing billions of dollars in expected economic benefits.

But their vision could stay exactly that, unless they can muster enough state and federal funds to cover the new services. And while Congressional Democrats are clamoring for tens of billions in new transportation dollars, there’s no guarantee that will become a reality.

“We could make a huge difference for mobility in this region”, Amtrak President Stephen Gardner said last week, touting the hoped-for new lines in northeastern Pennsylvania at a conference with politicians and officials.

The service could add lines connecting Scranton, Allentown and Reading in the busy corridor that already carries travelers along the east coast. Amtrak officials also proposed an additional daily east-west route that would cover Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and many towns and villages in between, as well as an additional line to Cleveland.

“Amtrak is ready to do its part and has created a forward-looking vision for rail service throughout the Northeast,” Governor Tom Wolf said last week, congratulating federal leaders who are ready to fund the work. “A vision that is good for jobs, good for the economy and good for the climate.

There is nothing new about transit agencies and businesses bragging about great future plans, including some that never materialize. But rail advocates have long pushed for some of these changes, and federal funding through Congress could make these projects a reality in the coming years.

Several local officials and congressional representatives joined Amtrak’s appeal last week. And since then, House Democrats have moved to approve more federal money for transportation, even as a $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill comes to an end.

However, even securing the expected funds might be easier said than done.

Last week, the Senate passed the $ 1 trillion bill with the support of the leaders of both parties, paving the way for a major investment in transportation and infrastructure. And while Democrats control the House and would generally support it, they are asking for much more funding first in the form of President Joe Biden’s $ 3.5 trillion infrastructure plan.

The larger plan is a no-starter for Republicans, but supporters are hoping to narrowly pass it through both houses of Congress using a legislative process called budget reconciliation. As the larger bill moves forward, members of Congress accumulate additional funds, including for rail networks.

In a party line vote on Wednesday, the House transport and infrastructure committee agreed to spend $ 60 billion on the biggest bill. This includes $ 6 billion for “Surface transport” and billions more to reduce carbon emissions and improve transport access in low-income areas.

If both infrastructure bills pass, it would mean a boost for projects like the ones Amtrak is pushing for Pennsylvania. In a written statement Wednesday, the committee chair, Rep. Pete DeFazio, D-Ore. Hailed the benefits that $ 60 billion could bring.

“I look forward to seeing Congress pass this unique law in a generation, because we cannot afford to waste this opportunity,” he said.

The GOP continues its audit

A thorough audit of Pennsylvania voter records – once dismissed as a marginal fixation, even among some Republicans – is brewing with the backing of legislative leaders.

Democrat elected officials have pledged legal challenges to the election audit scheduled for 2020, which Republican lawmakers say is necessary to ensure smooth and secure elections. Republicans loyal to former President Donald Trump have called for audits in many states, echoing unproven allegations of fraud.

This week, a GOP-controlled state Senate committee issued subpoenas demanding detailed election information, including the name, date of birth, address and partial Social Security numbers of each voter. Those supporting the summons included Senator Judy Ward, R-Blair, Senator Doug Mastriano, R-Adams and Senator Jake Corman, R-Center.

Democrats voted against the subpoenas, but lost in a 7-4 committee vote.

“We don’t need personal information to draft a law” Senator Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, said in a press release. “This fact, along with so many others, makes it clear that this so-called investigation represents corruption at every turn.”

House joins CCC renewal campaign

Three Pennsylvanians in Congress are leading a new House effort to revive the Civilian Conservation Corps, the 1930s program that sent unemployed youth to remote job sites to develop and conserve natural resources.

The three – Representative Conor Lamb, D-17th District, Representative Susan Wild, D-7th District, and Representative Dwight Evans, D-3rd District – were among the early sponsors of the so-called Revive the CCC Act, which created a modern equivalent. They are joining a similar effort in the Senate, led by Senator Bob Casey, D-Pa. since July.

The broad federal work programs have been the subject of much discussion in recent years, especially amid discussions of a so-called Green New Deal to address climate change. The original body was part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the government’s sweeping response to the Great Depression.

The revived program would place workers on construction sites across the country, with health benefits and a wage of $ 15 an hour reimbursed by the federal government.

“This legislation will revitalize the CCC and put people to work with well-paying jobs,” Lamb said when announcing the bill.

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Ryan Brown covers statewide politics for the Ogden newspapers. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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