It is going to come as a major shock to your senses to hear what I am going to say after listening to all the voices on the Presidents Infrastructure idea……………he should alter it and let the individual states do it in the form of a reasonable block grant, and the states should send any additional costs to those that use the roads, bridges and tunnels, the people who drive on them. Conservatives have a legitimate concern about adding to the debt, and to fix the infrastructure problems we have is going to cost a lot of money, lots of money. We know from recent examples how much was wasted on both T.A.R.P as well as the Stimulus Package.
In some states the problem relative to roads/tunnels is much worse than in others. Any attempt to do this at the Federal level always results in political patronage jobs and contracts being doled out to members of Congress pals. Money gets spent on dozens of things that have nothing to do with fixing infrastructure but end up as payola to labor unions, contractors that are friends of friends and Federal costs structures that are inflated ( Davis Act ) relative to what costs could be at the state level . States are more likely to be using non-union contractors in an open bidding process monitored by state watchdog groups.
In 2009 both Stimulus and TARP squandered billions on things that had nothing at all to do with the intended purposes. It was a grab bag of money that made the old practice of earmarks look like a bargain. The appropriate way to marginalize costs as to the extent possible and keep it from turning into a large grab bag of money is to let the states decide where the money should be spent. Voters can reach out and impact state legislators a bit easier than allowing Congress to decide where the money should be spent.
The decision on how the block grant money is divided can be made based on estimates already existing that have determined which states are in the worst shape. Some states have done a very good job at the state level of maintaining infrastructure in their own states, hence they will receive smaller shares since the need is greater elsewhere. I already hear the voices about how this is unfair to states that have behaved more responsibly than others, but no remedy is without flaw.
Let’s say for example a bridge/tunnel that crosses state lines need repaired. Each of those states could commit a portion of their block grants ( their share of the costs) via votes by their respective legislative transportation bodies and the job gets done without Federal contracts that often end up going to pals of pals. I am not naïve and recognize this same crony capitalism goes on at the state level, it’s just easier to identify it with a state sponsored open bidding process.
Federal Block Grants can’t cover all of the costs, nor should they. States will have some cost sharing responsibility and this is where as they say “ rubber meets the road”. Most State transportation funding formulas far too often provide adequate dedicated revenues for the maintenance of our infrastructure that get re-directed for political purposes. Legislators play games and spend the money on other things. I won’t spend time or ink on citing the well known examples of this. Suffice to say it then creates a funding shortfall that results in infrastructure problems getting kicked down the road.
Congress can remedy this with very specific language that prohibits a single dollar being spent on anything else besides well defined infrastructure projects, and severe penalties for any states that are caught violating said prohibitions. Federal Transportation Money could be withheld in future years as a means of controlling the abuse.
As to the states needing to pick up the share that federal money won’t cover, it comes from existing transportation funds the states already have, and if it still is short of what’s needed then it comes down to hiking gasoline taxes and or toll fees.
Conservatives don’t object to paying taxes, what we object to is dedicated taxes being squandered on some legislators pet projects that have nothing to do with infrastructure, only to hear a year later how “ transportation needs can’t be met “ because the dedicated funds were spent elsewhere. State legislators , particularly Governors who have some integrity and backbone could stop this immediately if they wanted to. When they refuse to then the blame lies with us for tolerating it.
Bob Shannon King William