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Legislative Update March 2012

Payroll Tax Cut Extended to end of 2012

 

The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 was enacted on February 22, continuing the social security tax withholding rate at 4.2 percent through the end of 2012 rather than returning it to the 6.2 percent rate which was in effect prior to 2011. The two percent rate reduction was originally in effect for all of 2011, and then was extended through the end of February 2012. The payroll tax cut benefits nearly 160 million workers, requires no action by workers to continue receiving the cut, and has no effect on workers’ future Social Security benefits. The law also affects current railroad workers in the same way with regard to Railroad Retirement Tier I tax rates, which are equivalent to social security benefits.

 

Amtrak & High-Speed Rail

On February 14, the Obama Administration released a FY-2013 budget request that includes a $6 billion investment in Amtrak and high-speed rail in 2012. This proposal is in sharp contrast to the $1.42 billion set aside for Amtrak in the 2012 round of appropriations, which is an unacceptable figure given the record-breaking 30.2 million passengers carried by Amtrak last year. Amtrak ridership has steadily risen for the last eight years. The funding for 2012 would be broken down into two pots, with $4 billion going to network development and $2 billion toward system preservation.

The proposal also includes a six-year surface transportation reauthorization that includes a total of $47.09 billion for passenger trains through the end of 2018, with $2.546 for high speed and intercity passenger rail, including Amtrak, in the coming year.

Please encourage our friends on both sides of the aisle to support this legislation that will not only protect the employment our brothers and sisters who work for Amtrak and ensure that our Railroad Retirement Fund continues to be sustained by their employment, but will also create good-paying manufacturing and construction jobs in our country.

House Surface Transportation Reauthorization Bill

As you may recall from the February update, HR 7, the House Surface Transportation Reauthorization Bill, aka the “American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act,” contains a number of provisions that are detrimental for railroad employees and their families. The bill has continued to be debated on the House floor with opposition pouring in from a diverse group of transportation stakeholders, elected officials, health professionals, business and labor groups, and public interest organizations, as well as a veto threat from the Obama Administration. Although the country is in desperate need of a transportation bill that provides robust funding and updates national priorities and policies, this bill which, amongst other drastic provisions, ends three decades of dedicated federal funding for public transportation, has been dubbed, “Bad on transit, bad on safety, bad on the environment.”

NTSB Recommendations

 

On January 12, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued two safety recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) related to five rear-end collisions that occurred in 2011, two of which resulted in crewmember fatalities. The NTSB expressed concern that noncompliance with restricted speed requirements may be an issue. The railroad dictionary defines “restricted speed requirements” as “being prepared to stop within one-half the range of vision.”

On March 2, in a letter from BLET National President Dennis Pierce to NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman, Pierce encouraged the NTSB to consider other contributing factors rather than focusing entirely on restricted speed during their investigations. He also advised the NTSB of carrier operating practices that put crews in jeopardy by placing profits ahead of safety, and he identified ways in which carrier officers intimidate operating crew members who operate too slowly at restricted speed – a dangerous practice that runs counter to the NTSB’s safety recommendations. In his letter, President Pierce advised the NTSB that he would be making BLET members aware of the rear-end collisions and the need to re-focus on operating at restricted speed. He also assured the NTSB that BLET members would comply in a professional manner and that all General Committees of Adjustment (GCAs) and State Legislative Boards (SLBs) would be advised in writing regarding the details of the 2011 accidents as well as the NTSB safety recommendations.

To read President Pierce’s letter to all BLET GCAs and SLBs, including the NTSB’s safety recommendations, please go to:

http://www.ble-t.org/pr/pdf/GC_SLB_NTSB_Restricted_Speed.pdf

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