Funds sought for rail compact dues

The Appropriations Committee heard testimony March 21 on a bill intended to bring Nebraska up-to-date on the state’s dues to the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact.

LB486, introduced by Fullerton Sen. Annette Dubas, would appropriate $15,000 in fiscal year 2014-15 to the Legislative Council to pay Nebraska’s annual dues to the compact.

The bill also asks for an unspecified appropriation for the current fiscal year to bring the state current on its past dues, which have been in arrears since 2010.

Nebraska stopped paying annual dues to the compact because of budget constraints, Dubas said, and is now $60,000 in arrears. She said the compact may be willing to negotiate for less than the full amount of the dues owed, which is why the dollar amount for the current fiscal year was left unspecified in the bill.

Dubas said the state should seek to regain membership in good standing in the compact in order to have a voice in regional passenger rail development.

“I believe that it’s important for Nebraska to remain a member of this compact,” she said. “I think we should be at the table as the future of rail is discussed.”

Laura Kliewer, director of the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission, testified in support of the bill. Ridership on the existing corridor service in the Midwest has grown rapidly in recent years, she said, noting that the number of riders has doubled since 2004.

Kliewer said Nebraska was one of the first states to join the compact, which she said has helped Midwest states obtain $2.6 billion in federal funds for rail improvements, including the Omaha to Chicago corridor.

David Purdy, president of ProRail Nebraska, also supported the bill, saying it is important for Nebraska to be part of regional rail planning so that the state is not left behind.

“Passenger rail exits and it is headed our way,” he said. “Rail development that doesn’t point toward Omaha will go in other directions.”

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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