School, City Officials Plead For State Amtrak Funding
Mayors and others affected by Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposal to cut Amtrak funding by 40 percent spent Tuesday morning testifying before a Senate Higher Education Committee.
Schools as small as Spoon River College and as large as the University of Illinois rely on Amtrak trains to bring their students to campus. They say Governor Bruce Rauner's proposal to drastically reduce Amtrak funding would affect enrollment at all downstate schools.
Jude Kiah, transit director at Western Illinois University -- the only state university that's not on an interstate -- says his school depends on two Amtrak trains per day.
"We don't have bus, we don't have airplane, we barely have any four-lane connection to the north and to the south," Kiah said. "This is not a nicety, it's not a convenience, it would be absolutely catastrophic to us to lose this second train."
The first to testify was Illinois State University president Larry Dietz, who says the passenger train service is a huge part of ISU's appeal to students.
"More that 55 percent of those students of our total student body of 25,500 students come from Chicago and its suburbs,” he said. “One of our many recruiting points of pride is that Illinois State's campus is less than a five-minute walk from the most utilized downstate Amtrak station in the state of Illinois."
Dietz told the committee Amtrak provides four daily round trips between the central Illinois campus and Chicago. A visit to family, or from family, within the first six weeks is critical for the student's ability to graduate, he said, and Amtrak facilitates those visits.
Mayor Chris Koos, of the city of Normal, told the committee more than $126 million in private money has been invested in the center of his community.
"The town facilitated this influx of private dollars with strategic public investment,” he said, “including property acquisition, demolition, a complete reconstruction of streets, water and sewer lines, the addition of pedestrian amenities."
The mayors of Springfield and Urbana also opposed the cuts. Laurel Prussing, mayor of Urbana, told lawmakers she was surprised by the mere suggestion.
"We have just gotten back from Washington DC where we were lobbying for more Amtrak service, because we think that's what we need, so we're kind of dismayed that somebody wants to cut Amtrak service," Prussing said. "I think that's a move in the wrong direction."
Rauner wants to reduce passenger rail funding from $42 million to $26 million. The cuts are among a number of cost-cutting measures the Republican governor has suggested.
- Dusty Rhodes and Jim Browne contributed to this report.
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