It seems to have escaped the notice of certain public servants that we are in the middle of a deep recession with no end in sight. It is an outrageous fact that the U.S. national debt has increased by $4.17 billion per day since the end of December 2007; as of Nov. 21, the national debt was $13,800,686,514,853, which is to say that every American taxpayer now owes more than $121,000. The unemployment rate hovered around 10 percent last week.

It seems to have escaped the notice of certain public servants that we are in the middle of a deep recession with no end in sight. It is an outrageous fact that the U.S. national debt has increased by $4.17 billion per day since the end of December 2007; as of Nov. 21, the national debt was $13,800,686,514,853, which is to say that every American taxpayer now owes more than $121,000. The unemployment rate hovered around 10 percent last week.

As if that weren’t enough bad news, last week New York Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch sent his report on the state’s Transportation Infrastructure to Gov. David Paterson. His opening paragraph does not paint an optimistic picture:

“New York State currently lacks the revenues necessary to maintain its transportation system in a state of good repair, and the State has no credible strategy for meeting future needs. Simply maintaining the State’s existing physical assets will take billions of dollars annually. … New York has long failed to secure enough revenues to meet both the operating expenses and the capital requirements of its transportation system.”

One has to wonder, then, why our legislators are so eager to put a noose around taxpayers’ necks by courting and accepting federal handouts to construct a high-speed rail line. If we can’t properly maintain existing subsidized highways, bridges, airports and waterways, pray tell how we will afford to run a high-speed railway? Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiassen’s comments in regard to Florida’s proposed rail project apply equally to New York: “(T)he money delivered by President Barack Obama … should have come with a note: ‘Here’s a gift from Uncle Sam. Now go build yourselves something you can’t possibly afford to operate.’”

A 1990 federal Department of Transportation evaluation of 10 major rail transit projects revealed that the average construction cost overrun was about 50 percent, and the real costs of seven of them were 30 to 100 percent higher than original estimates. High-speed rails are typically 50 percent more costly than freight rails. The Federal Railroad Administration’s high-speed rail plan is projected to cost $90 billion; now tack on the average cost overrun — and that’s just for construction.

Northeastern Amtrak passenger fares do not begin to cover operating costs; Amtrak is subsidized between $32 and $84 per passenger in its short-distance corridors, and still lost $1.1 billion in 2008.

President Obama and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood tout their pet project as an opportunity to create jobs and spur economic development. We should note that most of the jobs created will be union jobs; as Transportation Communications International President Bob Scardelletti boasts, “No industry is more closely tied to politics than the railroad industry.” Draw your own conclusions.

But most importantly, any jobs created by make-work projects around the country will deprive the individual taxpayer (as all taxation does) of the right to use his earnings in a way that makes the best sense for him. President Obama couldn’t possibly know more about how we ought to spend our own money than you and I do. The thousand dollars his rail scheme takes from me in taxes might allow my grocer to hire another employee, or I might spend it on a newspaper subscription. You might use yours to employ a piano teacher for your child, or buy new tires for your car.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Be the adult. Tell your representatives and your president what they already know, but won’t admit: they are railroading the country into economic suicide.

Cheryl Miller can be e-mailed at Fortuna_reilly@yahoo.com.