In Saturday's "Opinion Journal of the Wall Street Journal" the "Hot Topic" article (Of Bridges and Taxes) references specific instances of Earmark (Pork) Projects siphoning off funds which could have been used for road and/or bridge repair/maintenance. The roads and bridges are a very real problem, but one which can be solved with little or no increase in our tax burden.
The gas tax pleas are coming from the usual suspects, in both Washington and St. Paul. James Oberstar, the Minnesota Democrat who runs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, recently stood beside the wreckage and recommended an increase in the 18.4-cent-a-gallon federal gas tax, as a way to prevent future bridge collapses. His wing man, Alaska Republican and former Transportation Chairman Don Young, agrees wholeheartedly.It is interesting that these same politicians in 2005 approved a $286 Billion Federal Highway Bill that diverted Millions of Dollars, (through Earmarks) away from needed road and bridge projects.
As recently as July 25, Mr. Oberstar sent out a press release boasting that he had "secured more than $12 million in funding" for his state in a recent federal transportation and housing bill. But $10 million of that was dedicated to a commuter rail line, $250,000 for the "Isanti Bike/Walk Trail," $200,000 to bus services in Duluth, and $150,000 for the Mesabi Academy of Kidspeace in Buhl. None of it went for bridge repair.A lot of repairs could have been made with $12 Million. But it's also the States whose Politicians suffer from the same delusions that they know best how to Micro-Manage the Spending of Our Tax Dollars.
The Legislature started the year with a record $2 billion budget surplus, and the economy threw off another $149 million of unexpected revenue. Where did all that money go? Not to roads and bridges. The Taxpayers League of Minnesota says the politicians chose to pour those tax dollars into more spending for health care, art centers, sports stadiums and welfare benefits.We need a system where each requesting authority makes its case based on need and merit. Then Federal, State and Local Governments should allocate gross funds based on need, and allow the requesting authority to spend the dollars as they see fit. If we really need a Bike/Walking Path, or a new light rail network, the funds can be specifically appropriated on their own merits. Allowing the local authorities to lobby for and delegate based on local need is much better than having a Politician Micro-Manage the funds for another Bike Trail. Do we really need more public projects named after our Politicians?
Even transportation dollars aren't scarce. Minnesota spends $1.6 billion a year on transportation--enough to build a new bridge over the Mississippi River every four months. But nearly $1 billion of that has been diverted from road and bridge repair to the state's light rail network that has a negligible impact on traffic congestion. Last year part of a sales tax revenue stream that is supposed to be dedicated for road and bridge construction was re-routed to mass transit. The Minnesota Department of Economic Development reports that only 2.8% of the state's commuters ride buses or rail to get to work, but these projects get up to 25% of the funding. [emphasis mine]
See my previous related post Earmarks Are Business As Usual For Congress for more about Earmarks.