A U.S. House panel has recommended cutting funding for dozens of long-distance Amtrak routes through Mississippi. From the Clarion-Ledger:
Meridian, Miss., Mayor John Robert Smith, former chairman of the Amtrak board, said the proposed cuts would amount to a dramatic lifestyle change.
"The scenario for Mississippi would be identical to that really everywhere in the country - all Amtrak passenger rail would cease," he said.
The newspaper goes on to note that Meridian, Jackson, and Hattiesburg have all benefited in recent years from Amtrak's presence in the state, as rail travel has become the centerpiece of a small economic revival.
But, Mayor Smith argues,
The real loss would come if Meridian residents became cut off from the rest of the country.
"What it will do is disconnect my people from other parts of this country and that would be a tragedy," Smith said.
Amtrak puts its Mississippi ridership at 83,526 for fiscal year 2004. That number includes 31,695 for Jackson, 11,847 for Meridian and 7,276 for Hattiesburg. During that year, it employed 102 Mississippi residents.
The legislation would prohibit federal funding for any Amtrak route that requires a subsidy of $30 or more per passenger, a threshold that would affect at least 15 long-distance routes and two regional lines, according to the committee.
All three Amtrak routes through Mississippi would be cut from the federal budget unless Amtrak funding is restored.
Conservative and libertarian ideologues have long wanted to dispose of Amtrak, arguing that public railroads are unprofitable, an idea clearly reflected in this legislation. Of course, the point of public services is to serve the public, not to make a profit; and in non-urban areas, smaller cities, or out in the country, geographical necessity dictates that the per capita investment becomes higher. This issue really comes down to what kind of country you want to have. If you're okay with rural areas or smaller towns (or even small cities, like Jackson) becoming further isolated and depopulated, fine, go ahead, do away with Amtrak. But then the question becomes: why does the right wing hate the rural South?
If Mississippians are forced from their trains back into traffic, at least the Mississippi Development Authority wants to reward those who choose environmentally-correct vehicles. The MDA is considering giving a range of perks to drivers of hybrid gas/electric cars like the Toyota Prius or cars that run an alternative fuels, such as ethanol. Drivers of hybrids and ethanol-fueled vehicles might get to use carpool lanes or get state income tax incentives. Of course, not everybody can afford such alternatives, so this is an environmental incentive that's generally speaking going to pay off for middle-class and upper middle-class folks.