David Gunn's perpetual budget blackmail.

David Gunn's perpetual budget blackmail.

David Gunn's perpetual budget blackmail.

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Feb. 11 2004 5:29 PM

The Quasi-Governmental Official Who Cried Wolf

David Gunn's perpetual budget blackmail.

Yesterday, Amtrak President David Gunn warned reporters that if President Bush did not double funding for the beleaguered railroad, he would be forced to shut it down. "The president's number is a shutdown number," Gunn gravely intoned. Government officials threatening cataclysmic result if their budgets are cut is a time-honored Washington practice—the bureaucratic equivalent of a spoiled child holding his breath until his face turns blue. But few officials throw such tantrums as habitually as Gunn, whose public threats seem to arrive about as often as the New York-to-Washington Metroliner.

"President Bush's proposal to give Amtrak just over half what it is seeking in federal subsidies would shut the railroad down just as more passengers are taking the train, Amtrak President David Gunn said Tuesday."—Associated Press, Feb. 10, 2004

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"AMTRAK THREATENS OCTOBER SHUTDOWN IF FUNDING NOT DOUBLED ... Says Amtrak president David Gunn, 'Failure to fully fun this request, I fear, will quickly bring on the next crisis. This railroad simply cannot continue to operate without an adequate maintenance budget.' "—Public Works, Sept. 1, 2003

" 'It would be a chaotic shutdown.'—David Gunn, Amtrak president, on what would happen to the railroad if a bill passed last week by a House appropriations subcommittee becomes law."—Washington Post, July 14, 2003

"Amtrak is warning that a shutdown of its national passenger rail system could happen as early as April unless the House agrees to a $1.2 billion funding request that the Senate adopted last week. ... Company President David Gunn said even a temporary shutdown would pose a 'nightmare' scenario.' "—Gannett News Service, Jan. 22, 2003

"Amtrak President David L. Gunn said last week that if the passenger railroad corporation does not get a loan of at least $200 million by the end of the month, he will be forced to begin an orderly shutdown of all Amtrak passenger service in July."—Washington Post, June 15, 2002

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"Bits and pieces of the Toronto Transit Commission risk being shut down and abandoned unless the cash-strapped organization gets proper funding from the Metro and provincial governments, transit boss David Gunn said."—Toronto Star, Feb. 17, 1996

"Authorities in Philadelphia and the New York area [are] bracing for possible shutdowns or slowdowns of commuter rail service beginning New Year's Day. ... 'I would not assume my train will be there Monday morning,' [Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority] general manager David Gunn warned commuters."—UPI, Dec. 30, 1982

"Without an emergency transfusion of public funds, this area's commuter-train service could die before next July, transportation officials have warned. ... 'There is the real risk of a shutdown' for the rail service, said David Gunn."—New York Times, Nov. 30, 1981.

Joshua Green is a senior editor of the Atlantic Monthly.