PHOENIXVILLE - U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-6) kept 80 Phoenixville Area Chamber of Commerce members up to date on the federal budget, highway funding, an energy bill and the Schuylkill Valley Metro rail project on Tuesday at the Foundry building.
Two members of the audience asked Gerlach about the Schuylkill Valley Metro, a proposed train line from Philadelphia to Reading.
"Money trumps efficiency and clean air," said Gerlach when asked about the possible change from electrical powered to diesel powered trains.
Gerlach also spoke about slashing the cost of the project, originally proposed to cost $2.3 billion, by more than half.
"We're looking at a ticket price that is much more doable," said Gerlach.
Gerlach said that a "leaner and meaner" Metro project might translate to stops only at major towns, including King of Prussia, Phoenixville, Pottstown, and Reading instead of Douglassville and 20 stops as planned.
He also spoke about building stations at ground level rather than on raised platforms, offering service in stages and limiting the number of train trips.
Phoenix Property Group and steel site developer John MacPhee asked Gerlach whether new plans would skip a station planned for the French Creek Center and instead opt to use the former train station at Robert Ryan's Caterers at Columbia Station.
"We'll see how they unfold the diagram," replied Gerlach.
Gerlach also discussed federal budget due by Oct. 1, 2004.
Gerlach said that the resolution recently passed by the House of Representatives calls for $2.4 trillion in federal spending, which is a jump from this year's expenditures of $2.2 trillion.
The Senate and House have yet to agree on a similar version to preserve mandatory benefits, including Social Security and Medicare entitlements.
Gerlach said that the house version holds domestic discretionary spending at the same level, while a recession hurt revenues. Involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq also helped to push expenditures higher.
"We've got a tight fiscal hold," said Gerlach. "Non-mandatory spending should stay at the same level as last year. Overall it is pretty level."
Gerlach also spoke about the Highway Authorization Bill, for which the House authorized $275 million and the Senate voted to appropriate $311 million. Both chambers are in conference.
The money is divided up in six-year cycles and major projects will be funded after a compromise is signed by President Bush.
In highway funds, $45 million is destined for 6th District constituents, and "for every billion spent, 47,000 jobs are created," according to Gerlach.
The representative also spoke about a federal energy bill that would help to reduce the reliance on foreign oil, seek alternative energy sources, consider more conversion from coal to gas and present incentives for conservation.
That house bill has yet to be passed by the Senate.
Prescription assistance for those on Medicare was also discussed with new discount card discounts of up to 25 percent. Gerlach stressed that seniors aren't required to change plans.
"Nothing is mandatory," said Gerlach.