Iowa House puts brakes on passenger rail study funding

Latest setback likely not end of the line this session

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DES MOINES – Hopes for passenger rail in Eastern Iowa were derailed, or, at least, sidetracked when funding for a feasibility study was rejected by the Iowa House Tuesday.

Arguing that passenger rail will never be self-supporting and only possible with continuing state subsidies, majority Republicans blocked a Johnson County lawmaker’s attempt to secure $5.5 million in each of the next two years for “multimodal transportation.”

The discussion came en route to a 97-1 vote to approve House File 638, also known as the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund (RIIF). It appropriates $223.2 million in 2014 with $106 million in new spending and $182,815,673, including $121 million in new spending, in 2015.

Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, offered an amendment to include $11 million to cover the cost of passenger rail studies looking at potential ridership on an Iowa City to Chicago line through the Quad Cities and at the overall feasibility of passenger rail. The appropriation also would pay for Iowa’s membership in the Midwest Rail Compact. Iowa dropped out as part of Gov. Terry Branstad’s cost-savings measures.

In making his case, Jacoby noted the governor said Iowa needs transportation funding flexibility to enhance competitive transportation options for Iowa producers shipping to global marketplaces.

As long as there is $87 million in federal matching funds available, “we should keep pushing to get some of them,” Jacoby said.

Although his amendment was defeated 47-51, he expects it will be offered on other appropriations bills.

“I hope it ends up on a conference committee table,” Jacoby said.

Also Tuesday, the House approved Senate File 447 with a strike after amendment that cut the appropriations from $560 million to $535 million from the state general fund.

Worthan called it a “measured approach … a sustainable budget” that increases spending by just less than 3 percent. That’s in line with state revenue growth that has been in the 3 to 3.5 percent per year.

Another change in the House amendment was inclusion of a language creating a public safety training task force to study the need for a joint, comprehensive training facility for all emergency responders.

The House agreed with a Senate amendment to House File 602, a transportation budget bill. It goes back to the Senate, which is likely to send it to the governor for his signature.

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