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Transportation Nation

Obama Tells States "Use It or Lose It" for $470 Million in Transpo Money (CHART)

Friday, August 17, 2012

States will lose out on millions of dollars in federal highway money if they sit on the cash without putting it to immediate use, the White House said in a statement today.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is making freeing up $473 million in unspent highway earmarks for other projects  "that will create jobs and help improve transportation." The move is intended to speed the stimulus and job creation impact of federal transportation spending, much of which goes to large projects that can take years to plan and execute.

President Barack Obama said, “We’re not going to let politics stand between construction workers and good jobs repairing our roads and bridges.”

According to the DOT, $473 million in highway earmarks remain unspent from 2003-2006 appropriations (full list here). Today's authorization allows state transportation departments to take that earmarked money and use it on other highway, transit, passenger rail or port projects.

Funds not re-obligated within a state by the end of the year can go to other states in the 2013 fiscal year, hence the headline in the White House press release "Use It or Lose It" (in full below)

Top Ten States with unused earmarks:

Top Ten States with Unspent Transportation Earmark Money

Alabama $51,488,747.50
California $43,075,444.64
Texas $30,795,362.97
New York $29,031,287.86
Pennsylvania $28,536,041.90
Alaska $20,239,216.44
Massachusetts $18,933,562.00
Kentucky $17,518,853.15
Michigan $15,806,886.79
Mississippi $15,248,578.00

Full Press Release:

Obama Administration on Idle Earmark Projects: Use It or Lose It “We Can’t Wait” Action Helps States Put People to Work, Improve Infrastructure

WASHINGTON, DC – The Obama Administration today announced that it won’t allow infrastructure funds to sit idle as a result of stalled earmark projects at a time when hundreds of thousands of construction workers are looking for work. U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is making over $470 million in unspent earmarks immediately available to states for projects that will create jobs and help improve transportation across the country.

“My administration will continue to do everything we can to put Americans back to work,” said President Barack Obama. “We’re not going to let politics stand between construction workers and good jobs repairing our roads and bridges.”

“We are freeing up these funds so states can get down to the business of moving transportation projects forward and putting our friends and neighbors back to work,” said Secretary LaHood.

President Obama has vowed to veto any bill that comes to his desk with earmarks and would support legislation to permanently ban earmarks. But $473 million in highway earmarks from FY2003-2006 appropriations acts remain unspent years later. Those acts contain provisions that authorize the Secretary to make the unused funds available for eligible surface transportation projects.  Effective today, state departments of transportation will have the ability to use their unspent earmarked highway funds, some of which are nearly 10 years old, on any eligible highway, transit, passenger rail, or port project.

States must identify the projects they plan to use the funds for by October 1, and must obligate them by December 31, 2012.

“Particularly in these difficult fiscal times, states will be able to put these dollars to good use,” said Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez.  “These funds will create jobs in the short term and help bring about what President Obama called ‘an America built to last.’”

To ensure that this funding is quickly put to good use to improve our nation’s infrastructure, funds not obligated by the December 31 deadline will be proportionally redistributed in FY 2013 to states that met the deadline.

A list of available funds by state can be accessed here: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/pressroom/redisfy0306earmarks.htm

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Transportation Nation

Analysis: Picking Ryan Means Picking Fight on Transportation

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

 

Congressman Paul Ryan speaks at a Romney Rally in Manassas, Virginia, Sunday. (Photo by Flickr user monkeyz_uncle)

“Sharp” is a word you may have heard a lot these past few days. It’s a favorite descriptor for Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Congressman who became Mitt Romney’s running mate as of Saturday morning. Sharp, say friends and foes alike, are Ryan’s appearance, his mind, his criticisms of President Barack Obama, the spending reductions he favors—and now, somewhat suddenly, the contrast between the policies embodied by the presumptive Republican challengers and those of the incumbent Democrats. It is a perceived sharpness that itself stands in contrast, of course, to Mitt Romney’s pre-Ryan candidacy, which many commentators found too muddled and many conservatives found too moderate.

Take transportation, for instance. Romney, as this blog observed, spoke and behaved as a metro-friendly moderate when he was Governor of Massachusetts. Romney’s transportation budgets were modally balanced, with an emphasis on fixing what already existed, and he worked hard to create a new state agency to encourage smart growth development and sustainability. A candidate who still believed in those principles might not have many sharp things to say about transportation in a debate with President Barack Obama.

The Obama Administration subscribes to the belief, by no means exclusive to liberals, that infrastructure spending is crucial to creating jobs and keeping America competitive. Judging from Paul Ryan’s budget blueprint, the newly tapped V.P. candidate takes issue not with just the dollar figures required to test Obama's idea, but the philosophy itself.

As high-speed rail advocates and transit-friendly bloggers are already aware, Ryan will bring plenty of sharp contrast to the presidential campaign. Yonah Freemark of Transport Politic put it neatly:

“Mr. Ryan voted against every piece of transportation legislation proposed by Democrats when they controlled the lower chamber between 2007 and early 2010, with the exception of a bill subsidizing the automobile industry to the tune of $14 billion in loans in December 2008. This record included a vote against moving $8 billion into the highway trust fund in July 2008 (the overall vote was 387 to 37), a bill that was necessary to keep transportation funding at existing levels of investment. Meanwhile, he voted for a failed amendment that would have significantly cut back funding for Amtrak and voted against a widely popular bill that would expand grants for public transportation projects. He did vote in favor of the most recent transportation bill extension.”

These votes of Ryan's weren’t a matter of toeing the party line, either. Republican House Transportation Chairman John Mica, for instance, took the other side on every one of these votes except the failed amendment cutting funding for Amtrak.

But no budget hawk is perfect. Ryan did show a certain weakness for transportation dollars back when George W. Bush was President. In July of 2005, he joined the 412-8 majority in voting for the infamously pork-laden, “bridge-to-nowhere”-building reauthorization bill SAFETEA-LU. And then he sent out a press release listing all of the earmarks he had won for his district, including $7.2 million for the widening of I-94 between the Illinois state line and Milwaukee, $3.2 million for a bypass around Burlington, and $2.4 million for work on I-43 in Rock County. Small authorizations were also secured for preliminary engineering work on the Kenosha streetcar expansion project and Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail. Ryan’s press release boasted that the state of Wisconsin was still a donee state, getting back $1.06 for every federal tax dollar, up from $1.02 the previous authorization. But “there’s no gas tax increase, and it draws on the Highway Trust Fund – not general revenues – for transportation spending, and it’s fair for Wisconsin gas tax payers.”

Five years later, as we know, it became unfashionable, gauche even, to be seen indulging in earmarks and other federal largess. In November 2010, that Tea Party autumn, Republican Scott Walker won the governorship of Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin after a campaign that made a major issue of the Milwaukee-to-Madison high speed rail “boondoggle.” In a television commercial, Walker said he’d rather use the $810 million to fix Wisconsin’s roads and bridges. But the money wasn’t fungible. As Walker and Florida Governor Rick Scott soon had to admit, turning down the money only meant re-gifting it to high speed rail projects in other, bluer, more grateful states.

Paul Ryan tried to change that. Just a few days after Walker’s election, he and two fellow Wisconsin Republicans co-sponsored legislation in the House to order returned high-speed rail money deposited into the general fund for the purposes of deficit reduction. The bill would have changed the political dynamic of federal high-speed rail funding had it passed, placing new pressure on any governor who accepted those grants. For whatever reason, the bill never left committee.

When Ryan became Chairman of the House Budget Committee, in 2011, he put forth a 2012 budget that, reflecting Ryan’s commitment not to raise the gas tax or draw from the general fund, reduced transportation spending from its 2011 level of $95 billion gradually down to $66 billion in 2015. That was at a time when the Obama Administration was proposing a six-year infrastructure outlay of $476 billion “to modernize the country’s transportation infrastructure, and pave the way for long-term economic growth.”

But there’s the rub. Chairman Ryan refutes that premise. In his budget, transportation spending is not economic investment. To quote the 2013 budget:

In the first two years of the Obama administration, funding for the Department of Transportation grew by 24 percent–and that doesn’t count the stimulus spike, which nearly doubled transportation spending in one year. The mechanisms of federal highway and transit spending have become distorted, leading to imprudent, irresponsible, and often downright wasteful spending. Further, however worthy some highway projects might be, their capacity as job creators has been vastly oversold, as demonstrated by the extravagant but unfulfilled promises that accompanied the 2009 stimulus bill, particularly with regard to high-speed rail.

The document goes on to say that the country’s fiscal challenges make “long-term subsidization infeasible,” and that “high-speed rail and other new intercity rail projects should be pursued only if they can be established as self-supporting commercial services.” (It’s unclear whether Ryan believes that new highways should also be built as self-supporting commercial services. But he should give Rick Perry a call before saying so publicly.)

With Ryan now on the Republican ticket, one can see more clearly the (sharper) contours of the general election debate, and infrastructure spending might just have a starring role. It’s there in the debate over the federal budget, and the federal funding role. It’s at the crux of the hullabaloo over “You didn’t build that” (a government theory Elizabeth Warren articulated better). And it will be there when Paul Ryan debates Amtrak Joe.

Matt Dellinger is the author of the book Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Transportation Nation

AUDIO: Mica's Constituents in the Dark About HR7

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Park Avenue, Winter Park, Florida

Listen:

(Orlando, Fla -- WMFE) "I'm afraid I have not heard about the bill" one voter says. "It's a blank for me right now," another admits. "I have not a clue," a third offers, summing up the general level of awareness about the House transportation funding bill in the home district of its chief author, John Mica (R-Fla.)

Mica has acknowledged that his transportation bill looks unlikely to have an easy road through Congress -- in fact it's been divided into three to boost the chances -- but he believes his constituents will understand the rationale for the $260 billion, six-year spending plan. Given their low-level of awareness about the bill being hotly debated in Washington, his confidence may be justified. (Listen to tape above).

Mica says the push back from fellow lawmakers isn't because of the merits of the bill, but rather, because it doesn't have thousands of earmarks like its previous transportation funding legislation.

The bill has drawn the ire of mass transit advocates, who are unhappy with plans to scrap a requirement to fund public transport from gas taxes, and the bill, HR7, is currently stalled in the legislature.

Despite the bill's unpopularity, the Winter Park Republican told WMFE in Orlando that he thinks people in his district would support moves to put transportation money back in the hands of states to spend as they see fit.

“I don’t think that bureaucrats in ivory towers in Washington know what’s best for Florida, or for our communities," he said.

 

 

 

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Congressional Earmarks

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

David Fallis, staff writer with the Washington Post's Investigations Unit , discusses the Washington Post's investigation into the lack of transparency surrounding congressional earmarks.

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The Takeaway

New Report Uncovers Suspicious Earmarks

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Nationwide confidence in our lawmakers is at an all time low. And this news isn't like to change that. More than 30 members of Congress have used over $ 300 million in earmarks and other spending to fund many public projects close to their own properties. That's the finding of an extensive investigation published in today's Washington Post. The Post also found 16 lawmakers who had sent tax dollars to places where members of their families work or serve on boards.

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Transportation Nation

Rick Santorum, as Senator, Preached the Gospel of Transit

Monday, January 09, 2012

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

In March of 2005, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and its Pennsylvania counterpart (PPTA) honored Senator Rick Santorum for his dedication to public transportation. APTA president William W. Millar noted Santorum’s “tireless advocacy” and contributions on “both the national and local level.”

This recognition came shortly after Santorum appeared on Meet the Press with Joe Biden and vowed to oppose President Bush in his efforts to cut Amtrak funding. “Without substantial government funds or other intervening action, Amtrak would quickly enter bankruptcy and shut down all of its services, leaving millions of riders and thousands of communities without access to the essential and convenient transportation that Amtrak provides,” Santorum wrote in a Philadelphia Enquirer piece later that March. Regions outside the Northeast, he admitted, needed to “take steps to become more efficient and profitable.” But in the meantime “it is critical to Pennsylvania's workers, businesses, visitors, and most specifically to the more than 3,000 Amtrak employees that we do not decrease funding for Amtrak.”

The APTA release noted that Santorum’s position on the Senate Banking Committee and the Senate Finance Committee had allowed him to play “an important role in securing funding for various transportation projects throughout Pennsylvania.” And indeed it had.

Santorum’s primary challengers are now characterizing the Senator’s fondness for federal largess as a sign that he’s not a real fiscal conservative. In late December, as Santorum was surging in the Iowa polls, Rick Perry began criticizing him as “a prolific earmarker.” One Perry ad called Santorum “a porker’s best friend.” “I love Iowa pork,” Perry said in a speech. “But I hate Washington pork. Senator Santorum loaded up his bills with Pennsylvania pork and even voted for the Alaska bridge to nowhere.”

All true. But a little context, if you’d like: In 2005, earmarking was de rigueur. Congressmen and Senators brought pork back from the Washington hunt and hung it triumphantly at press conferences and shovel ceremonies. In July of 2005, when the final Senate vote was taken on the transportation funding bill that contained the “Bridge to Nowhere” earmark, only four Senators opposed it. And the Republican president signed it.

Does that mean that the earmark-baiting of the other candidates is nothing more than “pious baloney?” Well, Perry and his Texas Department of Transportation certainly had their hand out back then too. (The Governor often cited the disappointing funding stream from Washington as one reason he wanted to see his privatized Trans-Texas Corridor plan enacted.)

But who has credibility in this regard? If 96 Senators jumped off a cliff, who wouldn’t? John McCain, who was one of those four Senators who voten nay on the 2005 transportation reauthorization, who took a brave lead in criticizing the earmark-laden bill, and who is now on the stump for Romney, criticizing Santorum (and Gingrich) for earmarking.

And to the horror of The Club for Growth, Santorum says he has no regrets on earmarking. "I don't regret going out at the time and making sure that the people of Pennsylvania, who I was elected to represent, got resources back into the state after spending money,” he said recently. The Huffington Post also quoted Santorum explaining to a crowd of voters in Iowa: “In the Constitution it says who has the power to appropriate funds. Congress does. So we appropriate funds.”

Former Pennsylvania Governor and Infrastructure cheerleader Ed Rendell chimed in last week to praise Santorum’s effectiveness in funneling money home. "He understood that those type of earmarks translated into jobs and investment," Rendell said.

Indeed his support of infrastructure, particularly transit, seems to run deep. From 1984 to 1986, Santorum served as the director for the state senate transportation committee as an administrative assistant for Pennsylvania state senator J. Doyle Corman. He understood what rail meant to Pennsylvania and its cities. "The 'T' light rail line in Pittsburgh was my daily means of transportation for many years while I worked downtown,” Santorum said in 2005 when he was honored by the APTA. “I understand the importance of maintaining the various forms of public transportation for those who rely on it every day."

Midway through his first term as senator, during the drafting of the TEA-21 authorization bill, Santorum helped create the new Job Access and Reverse Commute program, which was meant to address “the unique transportation challenges faced by welfare recipients and low-income persons seeking to obtain and maintain employment.” When the authorization bill came up for renewal in 2005, Santorum appeared before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs and offered a full-throated endorsement of the program—and federal transit funding in general—from a socially conservative angle.

“Robust [transit] systems are also an important component of economic development,” he said. “Throughout my tenure in Congress, one of my highest priorities has been assisting those who are transitioning from welfare to the workplace.... In my home state of Pennsylvania, the cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in particular have provided access to employment for thousands of individuals through the JARC program. The creation of the program has allowed Pennsylvania to provide welfare recipients and other low-income individuals an opportunity to secure and retain employment and achieve self-sufficiency.”

Interestingly, that May of 2005, at a time when privatization was spreading and the Bush Administration was promoting state-level responsibility for transportation, Santorum offered a strenuous defense for a strong federal participation in transportation funding.

“Every State in the country has a transportation department. Why do we need a Federal transportation department?” He asked. “We need it because we have to make sure the goods that are produced in New Jersey can get to Ohio to Texas, or the goods produced in California can get to Georgia.

"The fact is it is important for us to be connected... We have a situation where we have States that shoulder a large burden when it comes to that interstate commerce, and we have other States that are the great beneficiaries.” The Federal government, he argued, should continueto redistribute national gas tax revenues disproportionately to “pass-through” states such as Pennsylvania. “Given the topography, the climate, and the congestion and traffic we bear, it would be a State that should do well under a Federal formula.”

So there you have it. Rick Santorum is a man quite comfortable with Washington’s role in redistributing tax revenue, at least when it comes to transportation. He’s a man who quite likes trains and buses, a man who sees federal spending on public transportation not as welfare, but rather as a way to help people of lesser means get to work, as economic development.

More candidate analysis:  Mitt Romney: Metro-Friendly Moderate?; Newt Gingrich: Rail Visionary, Lover of Oil; Rick Perry’s Trans-Texas Corridor Problem.

Matt Dellinger is the author of the book Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway. You can follow him on Twitter.

 

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The Takeaway

Earmarks by Another Name?

Friday, June 03, 2011

The GOP House, fueled by the Tea Party, banned earmarks at the beginning of this year. However, there's a new Defense Authorization bill on the Hill that cut money from defense, but used that money to pay for special projects. Takeaway Washington correspondent Todd Zwillich says a lot people are concerned that this is "earmarks by another name." Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz), an earmark opponent, says "It's like squeezing a balloon, it's gonna come out somewhere else and all we can do is try to plug every whole that we can."

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Transportation Nation

Governor Rendell on Transportation's Future, and His Own

Monday, November 22, 2010

Governor Edward Rendell in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in November 2009. (TED VAN PELT/Creative Commons via Flickr)

To transportation watchers, Governor Edward Rendell of Pennsylvania is a familiar face—and an unmistakeable voice. His raspy enthusiasm for the un-sexy world of infrastructure has been consistent and contagious. Two years ago, Rendell co-founded, with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Building America's Future, a bipartisan coalition of elected officials dedicated to "bringing about a new era of U.S. investment in infrastructure that enhances our nation's prosperity and quality of life."

In his eight years as Governor, Rendell showed a remarkably open mind when it came to financing infrastructure. He has repeatedly advocated for the indexing of the gas tax and recently suggested a profit tax on oil companies to pay for transportation. In 2007, he unsuccessfully sought permission from his state legislature to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike to private operators. When the legislature declined, Rendell sought approval from the USDOT to add tolls to his state's stretch of Interstate 80. The federal government denied that plan—twice—because the applicable pilot program restricts the use of toll revenues to the tolled facility itself, and Rendell had a statewide investment program in mind.

Though he is a Democrat, Rendell's eagerness to promote privatization and the tolling of sacrosanct Interstates put him in step with unpopular stances taken by Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters during the Bush Administration. Those ideas remain alive under President Obama, and several former Rendell associates now occupy high places in the USDOT:  his former Deputy Chief of Staff, Roy Kienitz, is now Undersecretary for Policy; and Polly Trottenberg, the former executive director of Building America's Future, is now Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy.

Transportation Nation's Matt Dellinger interviewed Governor Rendell last week, and asked about the new political atmosphere in Washington, how it could affect transportation policy, and where Rendell is headed after he leaves his post in January.

Matt Dellinger: Since you're one of the most outspoken advocates for transportation investment, I wanted to get your thoughts on where we are as far as federal re-authorization.

Governor Ed Rendell : Well, it's difficult to say exactly with the change in Congress. I think the chances of a megabill like Congressman Oberstar had proposed are probably pretty remote, and

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Transportation Nation

Republicans Make Earmark Pledge Official - But Pet Project Spending Still Possible

Thursday, November 18, 2010

(Washington, D.C. -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) Senate Republicans on Tuesday made good on their plans to swear off those pet spending projects called "earmarks." House Republicans have done the same, largely under pressure from vocal tea party activists and others decrying out-of-control government spending.

But before believing the $16 billion in annual earmark spending is about to go away, consider a few things:

  • Republicans have pledged only to forgo requesting earmarks for themselves. And judging from the statements of some senior Republicans, not everyone supports the ban. While it's likely all Republicans will avoid earmarks as a show of solidarity, they certainly don't have to. And in promising not to request earmarks for two years, Senate Republicans have not pledged to vote against spending bills that contain earmarks.
  • Cutting earmarks may cut spending, but it doesn't have to. Many on lawmakers worry that the ban simply cedes more power to the Obama White House to program money the way it sees fit, not the way Congress wants. That means that lawmakers who could once fund local transportation projects with earmarks will now have to go hat-in-hand to President Obama to ask for White House backing. One example: A 14-year dredging project for the Port of Savannah in Georgia that has survived on congressional earmarks. Local Republicans and Democrats desperately want the project to continue and may soon find themselves asking the White House for help.
  • Democrats and Independents have signed no such earmark pledge. As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told reporters, "I personally am not going to stop bringing things back for Nevada."
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The Takeaway

The Good, the Bad, and the Earmarks

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Senate Republicans recently followed their colleagues in the House, voting behind closed doors to approve a moratorium on all Congressional earmarks for two years. President Obama supports a ban on earmarks, but many Senate Democrats don't agree: So far, only two Democrats in the Senate have publicly come out in favor of the ban. Can the new Congress find any common ground on the issue? And how would an outright ban on earmarks affect small cities and towns?

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Transportation Nation

Minn. Lawmaker Defends Earmarks, Vows to Save Light Rail Funds

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

(St. Paul -- Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio) While Republicans are set to formalize a non-binding pledge banning earmarks, not every legislator thinks it's good policy. U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), defended congressional earmarks today, saying limits have been put in place and that the money spent on them represents only a small part of the overall federal budget.

Republican House leaders called for a moratorium on the earmark process, which allows members of Congress to fund specific projects in their states or districts. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has said he also supports a ban on earmarks.

But McCollum said she's concerned about the $45 million earmark pending before the House for Minnesota's Central Corridor light rail project. She said the project is worthwhile and will create thousands of jobs.

"[Earmarks are] one half of one percent of the entire federal budget," McCollum told MPR's Morning Edition. "This is for local communities. I'm a big supporter of local control, especially when it comes to spending some of our tax dollars."

McCollum said she is working with the Obama administration to save Central Corridor from Republican cuts.

While the light rail project is a priority, McCollum said there are other earmarks she's supported in past years, such as money for the Harriet Tubman crisis centers in the Twin Cities.

"That's a community project that the community came together and said, 'Would you help us fund this,'" she said.

Listen to the full interview with McCollum at MPR.

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The Takeaway

McConnell Changes Tune On Earmarks

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), once a man who backed the practice of earmarks, and used them for many projects in his state of Kentucky, made a surprise announcement on the issue yesterday. He said that he will support a moritorium on earmarks. Does the Senator's reversal signal the influence of those in the Tea Party, who have called for an end to pork-barrel projects?  

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WQXR News

House Dems Ban Some Earmarks

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Republicans responded by asking that earmarks be banned across the board.

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The Takeaway

Washington Takeout: White House Meeting on Afghanistan

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Takeaway Washington correspondent Todd Zwillich looks ahead to a bipartisan White House meeting on Afghanistan, and a congressional battle over earmarks.

 

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