U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling's vote to kill funding for a Chicago-Quad-Cities-Iowa City Amtrak route and a Moline station to serve it has us scratching our heads.
First, because in conversations with candidate Bobby Schilling before the election, we never got the impression that he would cut the legs out from under the much-needed and hard-fought Quad-Cities project. As the campaign progressed, in fact, it seemed that the Colona Republican had heard the message of those who had worked so hard for the job-creating service.
Indeed, he told Mike Kroll of the weekly, The Zephyr on Dec. 31, 2009, talks with constituents had led him to change his mind about both Amtrak and the high-speed rail. "There is no question in my mind now that Amtrak and high-speed rail are critically important to both the economy and the environment of the Midwest," he was quoted as saying (http://www.thezephyr.com/schilling1.htm).
Imagine our surprise then when on Saturday he voted with a majority of the U.S. House to include the $230 million federal grant for the bistate region in spending cuts to this year's budget. The $10 million TIGER funds for the Moline station also were eliminated, leaving that city holding a $1.2 million property purchased to secure the Amtrak service. Additionally, supporters estimate that jettisoning the already-approved grant will cost the community 1,700 jobs.
The bill to fund the government from March 4 to Sept. 30 now goes to the Senate and some in Washington are predicting the government could be shut down because that Democrat-controlled body is unlikely to agree to a bill passed in the GOP-dominated House.
At a Monday news conference, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., called the bill a "job killer." On the Q-C rail portion of the measure, he is correct. The loss of Amtrak funds for this community is also a slap in the face to the hundreds of community leaders who worked so hard and so long to secure it. At the very least, they deserve to know why they disappeared.
On Monday, a staffer for Rep. Schilling said the congressman was too busy for a phone interview and instead offered to answer e-mail questions. Included among a list of questions reporter Dawn Neuses sent him about the budget cuts was this one:
"The spending bill also eliminated $230 million to build the Amtrak line from Chicago to Moline. If the funding does not come through, this action I am told by Quad-City area leaders, could kill the project and 1,700 Quad-City jobs that would be sparked by construction of the line. How does the elimination of this funding sit with you? How do you justify it? And what do you want to say to the people who voted you into office about the potential loss of 1,700 jobs?"
He offered the following statement:
"The people of the 17th District did not elect me to join the culture of out-of-control spending. They did not elect me to just keep to the status quo. I was elected to tackle the huge budget problems our country is facing, and I take that responsibility seriously.
"I reviewed the pros and cons of every amendment I voted on, and I stand by my decisions. I believe we made major strides last week toward addressing our nation's debt problem. While there is still much to do, I believe this was a modest, yet significant step in the right direction."
That's fine, as far as it goes, but he did not answer why, specifically, he supported targeting the Amtrak project. Indeed, we'd love to know why an economic development engine like this one for our community doesn't pass muster while another one that benefits states like Ohio did.
Rep. Schilling joined half of House Republicans in voting against an amendment to cut $450 million in funds for extra F-35 fighter-jet engines that even the Department of Defense has repeatedly tried to kill. Perhaps jobs in Speaker John Boehner's district are more important than jobs here. What else is one to think when even Defense Secretary Robert Gates calls this bit of pork unnecessary and wasteful? Though the full House did pass the Rooney Amendment, which killed the extra engine, some Washington insiders suggest it is not yet dead. This example of prime pork should be.
As for the Q-C Amtrak project, studies have shown that the route is needed and that it will create jobs and vital infrastructure. It deserves to be resurrected.
Sen. Durbin and local leaders have vowed to continue to fight for it and we join in urging Quad-Citians to contact House and Senate members -- including Rep. Schilling -- to stress why it is important to the Quad-Cities future.
Today is Wednesday, April 16, the 106th day of 2014. There are 259 days left in the year. 1864 -- 150 years ago: Yesterday some bold thief stole a full bolt of calico from a box in front of Wadsworth's store, where it was on exhibition. 1889 -- 125 years ago: A team belonging to Peter Priese got away from its driver and made a mad run across the Rock Island Bridge. The driver was thrown from his seat but not hurt. 1914 -- 100 years ago: Carlton Taylor was appointed district deputy grand master for the 14th Masonic District of Illinois. 1939 -- 75 years ago: Moline's million dollar municipal airport was dedicated to air transportation and the national defense by Lt. Gov. John Stelle. 1964 -- 50 years ago: THE ARGUS will be election headquarters for Rock Island County tomorrow night, and the public is invited to watch the operation. The closing of the polls at 6 p.m. will mark the start of open house in the newsroom. Visitors will see staff members receiving, tabulating and posting returns. 1989 -- 25 years ago: Few bricks actually tumbled, but no one seemed to mind as about 1,000 people gathered to celebrate the formal start of demolition at the site of a downtown civic center.