Deal Paves Way For Poverty Bill


Monday, September 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


WASHINGTON (AP) — An agreement for Amtrak tax breaks that would raise $10 billion for high-speed rail and construction projects boosted chances Monday that Congress will approve a stalled anti-poverty bill before adjourning this year.

The Amtrak deal would permit the national passenger railroad to raise the money over the next decade using bonds in which tax credits are substituted for interest paid by Amtrak. It also would prevent the federally subsidized company from spending fuel-tax proceeds deposited in a transportation trust fund intended mainly for highway work. Amtrak would have to repay any money from the trust fund that Congress did approve.

``There shouldn't be double-dipping,'' said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. ``Amtrak is not contributing to that trust fund, as motorists are. They have no claim on it.''

Amtrak has used more than $22 billion in federal operating subsidies since it was created in 1971 and is relying on high-speed 90-plus mph rail service to boost ridership and become self-sufficient by 2003. The tax credits would cost about $3.3 billion over 10 years, to be used for capital construction.

Baucus said Monday that key senators, including Senate Finance Committee Chairman William Roth, R-Del., agreed to include his Amtrak language along with the bond provisions in the underlying House-passed legislation, which envisions other tax breaks and spending programs to revive inner-city slums and pockets of rural poverty.

Roth, who twice postponed Finance Committee consideration of the bill last week in part because of the Amtrak issue, scheduled a third attempt to move the bill for Wednesday. Amtrak is important in Delaware, where Roth is in a tough re-election battle against Democratic Gov. Tom Carper.

The bill's fate now could hinge on whether senators insist on the 73 amendments they have proposed to the bill, which already has risen in estimated cost from $17 billion to $37 billion over 10 years. Molasses tariffs, tax credits for energy produced from wood chips and Medicaid for disabled children are only a few among dozens of proposals.

``If it's not so loaded down that it's an embarrassment, it stands a chance of passing,'' said Baucus, a senior Democrat on the Finance Committee.

The legislation is attracting much attention because it stems from an agreement reached this year by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and President Clinton on ways the federal government can help impoverished areas through private capital investment.

As passed by the House, the bill would expand ``empowerment zones'' where special tax and regulatory rules apply, initiate Clinton's ``New Markets'' plan for venture capital firms to invest in poor areas, increase low-income housing credits and expand tax breaks for reclamation of ``brownfields'' industrial sites.

In addition to Amtrak, Roth has proposed including a tax credit for companies that provide broadband Internet service in rural areas.

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The House bill is H.R. 4923

On the Net: Joint Committee on Taxation: http://www.house.gov/jct

Amtrak on the bill: http://www.amtrak.com/news/archive/atns00113.htm