In a nation where Barbie says that "math is hard," people still have the math skills to understand that Amtrak's $16 burger that sells for $9.50 is a bad deal. Maybe the world's worst premium-priced burger could be the symbol that finally opens the floodgates of real reform.
Amtrak has come under fire recently for selling priced-up burgers ... and losing money on their food service division. According to Gawker's Hamilton Nolan, the train service is "selling food and drinks at a virtually unlimited markup to a captive audience with no other options. Amtrak cannot even make a dollar doing that."
Of course it can't! Amtrak's financial mismanagement mirrors the overall financial situation of the federal government. The rail service pays 10% to 12% of its budget for "debt service," and receives a subsidy of 40% or more from Congress every year. Sound familiar?
The federal government is currently spending 40 cents more than every dollar it receives, borrowing those funds, and spending more than 10% of its budget for debt service. It's like people who take out a new higher-interest credit card to continue shopping, and just pay the minimum payment on an older card they've charged to the max.
Since 2002, Amtrak has lost $834 million on food alone, all of which was underwritten by taxpayer dollars. This is a lot more than "a few instances of waste, fraud and theft," in the oft-repeated words of President Obama.
Compare Amtrak to McDonald's. Hamilton Nolan said that when he worked at McDonald's in high school, he "robbed them blind" of cheese and McNuggets, but they still managed to make a profit from .99 cent burgers and sodas. Just how "blind" are the Amtrak workers robbing the American taxpayer? At a minimum, 70% "blinder." McDonald's makes a 6 cent profit on burgers sold off the "Dollar Menu."
Money is real enough to government employees when it's in their hands. Amtrak's "attendants" make $23 to $27 an hour, more than flight attendants. Thousands of chefs and servers in high-end restaurants in every American city that make less than that. Congress gave the annual ritual Amtrak flaming in August, which is how the $16 hamburger was revealed. Amtrak employees still received a locked-in 3% annual raise and the train service was ordered for the 30th time to "study its management."
Sure, just as a couple of Amtrak's lines are profitable, so are a few government agencies well-run. But the ones that aren't are making up for that: big time.
What's the solution? According to Gawker's Nolan, "Everyone at Amtrak should be fired at once."
Sounds radical? How much more radical is it than letting things continue? We are closer than most people think to having no money at all to pay our bills, including the salaries of Amtrak employees, who steal because they can, and suffer under the mistaken belief that they aren't paid enough to provide customer service rivaling that of Seinfeld's Soup Nazi.
Can we hire Chef Gordon Ramsay to take care of this? That's one taxpayer bill I'd be thrilled to pay.