Iowa Republicans vote against Amtrak funding

The U.S. House approved $8 billion in funding for Amtrak passenger rail on Wednesday. Keith Lang and Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill,

Since its inception in 1971, Amtrak has historically received about $1 billion per year from the government for operations and construction projects.

The measure would authorize about $982 million per year for the company’s national network and another $470 million annually for its popular Northeast U.S. routes.

The bill, which would expire in 2019, sets another $300 million per year for construction on Amtrak routes in the rest of country and about $24 million per year for the company’s inspector general.

All 184 Democrats present voted yes, including Iowa’s Dave Loebsack (IA-02). But as the 316 to 101 roll call shows, more than 100 House conservatives voted against the Amtrak bill, including Iowa’s Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04).

Young should know better. Currently, the only Amtrak routes across Iowa travel through the southern part of the state, calling at stations in the third and second Congressional districts. (King used to represent some of those southwest Iowa counties, but he hasn’t since the last redistricting.) Anyway, Young has lived on the east coast long enough to understand how important passenger rail is for the U.S. transportation system.  

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Iowa Senate district 45: Joe Seng has a primary challenger, Mark Riley

If any Iowa Democrat deserves a primary challenge, it’s three-term State Senator Joe Seng. Although the Davenport-based veterinarian represents one of the Democrats’ safest urban districts, Seng is anti-choice and supported Republican calls for a vote against marriage equality in 2010. As chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, he has helped pass several bills that are good for industrial agriculture but bad for the environment, especially clean water. In addition, Seng himself challenged three-term U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack in the IA-02 Democratic primary two years ago, so he couldn’t claim the moral high ground against a primary challenger for his state Senate seat.

I was excited to see yesterday that another Democratic candidate, Mark Riley, had filed papers to run in Senate district 45. When I realized Riley was Seng’s Republican opponent in 2010 and ran an independent campaign against Iowa House Democrat Cindy Winckler in 2012, I became disappointed. Was he just a fake like the “Democrat” who ran against State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad in 2010?

I sought comment from Riley about why he was running as a Democrat in Iowa Senate district 45, having campaigned as a Republican in the same district a few years ago. I’ve posted his response after the jump. You be the judge. Riley would have my serious consideration if I lived on the west side of Davenport.  

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New passenger rail off the table for Iowa?

Hopes to bring passenger rail service from Chicago to Iowa City and eventually to Des Moines and Council Bluffs appear to be dead. For the last three years, State Senator Matt McCoy tried to secure state matching funds for a federal passenger rail grant, citing many possible economic benefits to Iowa. Both Governor Terry Branstad and Iowa House Republicans have opposed allocating funds toward new passenger rail. Speaking to the Sunday Des Moines Register’s William Petroski, McCoy blamed Iowa House Republicans, not the governor, for killing the project. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen told the Register that his caucus did not see the project as a "wise investment."

I’ve posted excerpts from yesterday’s story after the jump. Neither McCoy nor Paulsen mentioned that the Iowa House speaker works for a trucking company. The trucking industry generally opposes improvements to rail infrastructure. Paulsen’s closed mind on passenger rail is one reason I was disappointed when he decided against running for Congress.

UPDATE: Added new comments from Branstad after the jump.

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Iowa passenger rail follow-up and discussion thread

In the final days of the 2011 Iowa legislative session, funding for passenger rail was one of the last disputes House Republican and Senate Democratic negotiators resolved. The final deal called for no passenger rail money in the state budget for fiscal year 2012, but left "intent" language describing future state funding to match federal grants for a train route between Iowa City and Chicago. At that time, news reports indicated that legislators would need to allocate $6.5 million toward passenger rail in fiscal year 2013 to keep this project alive, plus $10 million total in subsequent years.

Before the Iowa House and Senate adjourned last week, I saw no mention of passenger rail funding in any reports about the infrastructure budget for fiscal year 2013, which begins on July 1. Wondering whether no news was bad news, I started asking around. What I learned is after the jump, along with new links on the potential for passenger rail across Iowa.

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