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 Thursday, Dec. 5, the 339th day of 2013. There are 26 days left in the year. 1863 -- 150 years ago: A new passenger car has been placed on the Coal Valley railroad, and R.R. Cable is running the trains at present. 1888 -- 125 years ago: The Rev. G.W. Gue preached a convincing sermon on the need of a new First Methodist Church in Rock Island 1913 -- 100 years ago: Dr. W.S. Marquis preached his farewell sermon at Broadway Presbyterian Church to the combined congregations from First Methodist, First Baptist, United Presbyterian and South Park Presbyterian churches. 1938 -- 75 years ago: Rock Island's mayor is seeking to enforce the rules governing PWA projects in the city which state that local men are to be hired for the work. 1963 -- 50 years ago: The Argus Santa Claus requests that the names of needy Rock Island boys and girls through 12 years of age be registered by parents or guardians from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Dec. 11or Dec. 14. 1988 -- 25 years ago: Alcoa and its employee union have reached tentative agreement on a 43-month labor contract covering about 7,500 workers at six plants, including 1,900 employees at Alcoa's Davenport Works, company and union officials said today.