Tester comments about Amtrak, other issues
October 23, 2009
Tim Leeds Havre Daily News [email protected]
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said in a conference call with Montana reporters Thursday that while he is not giving up on reviving a southern Montana route for the Amtrak passenger train company, the original concept is not likely to fly. “It would be very difficult right now to get a billion dollars for that route,” Tester said. He said that a study on reviving the route, which he requested in legislation passed in 2008, estimates it would lose $20 million to $30 million a year, requiring increased annual funding from the federal government. It estimates the start-up cost at $1.043 billion. “It wasn't what I wanted to hear ,” Tester said. “I just can't get the money for that.” The study estimates that the route, discontinued in 1979, would transport 360,000 passengers a year. That might take some passengers off the northern Empire Builder route, which passes through Havre on its way from Chicago to the West Coast. That probably would be offset over time, Tester said. He said reviving the route would help the economy of the entire state, as well as helping the southern Montana cities on the route. “I don't want to put it to bed. The route has some potential ,” he said. “I just think we need to keep our heads thinking about this and hopefully come up with some kind of plan.” Tester also addressed his forest plan legislation, which would increase logging in Montana especially in areas with trees killed by pine beetles, as well as increase wilderness and recreation areas. Tester and his staff have been holding meetings in Montana to discuss and collect comments on the plan, which has drawn some criticism both from supporters of increased loggers and people pushing for more conservation. Despite editorials to the contrary, Tester said, people at the meetings seem to like the plan. “I think Montanans support this,” he said. He added that changes to the original plan have been made, and more are likely as comments come through with items like health care and climate change reforms taking high priority in Congress, it is likely to take some time before his bill is on the floor of the Senate. Tester also responded to a question about executives in the finance industry receiving high pay and bonuses in a time of economic distress and federal bailout money given to the industry. It is wrong for finance executives in bailed-out companies to be receiving bonuses as unemployment notches up and people are having a hard time paying heating bills, Tester said. “Quite frankly, they are living in a fairy-tale world,” he said. “I just can't figure out why we can't get these people back to reality,” Tester added. In response to a question about reforming or overturning No Child Left Behind, a program started under President George W. Bush which ties federal funding to nationwide requirements and testing, Tester said that as a former teacher and school board member he does not like the program. Action is likely to be delayed by the amount of items on Congress' docket, he said. But, “We are continuing to work to make it better,” Tester said. “We are trying to make sure teachers are not teaching to the test.” Tester also commented on the chance of a large troop buildup in Afghanistan. He said one issue complicating the deployment is the state of the government in Afghanistan. A report made three weeks ago by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that the government is not functional, and the issue of Pakistan's nuclear capability and conflict in Afghanistan escalating also makes deciding to send in more troops difficult for President Barack Obama and for Congress, Tester said. “We don't want to get hooked into another situation like Viet Nam,” he said.