Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post

Lost highway

Cezary Podkul and Gregory Korte of USA Today report on “orphaned” earmarks in the U.S. Department of Transportation budget — pricey infrastructure projects that have never got off the ground. The federal highway administration provides each state money for transportation projects and in the past, lawmakers have tacked on earmarks for home state projects with no debate in Congress. Apparently, though, lawmakers often don’t know what they’re doing. For example, Barack Obama and Rahm Emanual, two fairly shrewd guys whatever you think of their politics, earmarked almost $2 million for a highway underpass when they were both members of the Illinois Congressional delegation. However, the underpass in question had already been constructed and it is illegal for the state to use earmarked funds for a pre-approved project. So this is almost $2 million in money Illinois will never see.

The press almost always portrays earmarks in a negative light, but usually the assumption is that savvy lawmakers are compromising the public good in order to “bring home the bacon” to their constituents and win reelection. However, with these “orphaned” earmarks there is retributive justice: if they’re not careful, lawmakers risk throwing away limited money for their constituents when they draft earmarks.

Podkul and Korte’s piece reveals a disturbing disconnect state and federal government.  DOT will announce that X amount of money is going to Y project, but that amount often bears little correlation to how much the project costs. The problem Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell describes in the article — the feds giving $6 million for an expressway that costs $540 million — is an issue with many transportation projects, regardless of whether that money comes from an earmark.

Leave a Comment