By Akash Chougule
Wednesday afternoon in Minnesota, President Obama called for another so-called stimulus package, this time in the form of four-year, $302 billion transportation bill and hundreds of millions more in taxpayer-funded grants to fund infrastructure projects. The current transportation bill expires at the end of September of this year, and the so-called TIGER grants the President announced this week were first authorized as part of the President’s infamous 2009 “Stimulus” package.
While many Americans across the political spectrum share the view that something must be done to address the growing problem of traffic jams, crumbling roads, and unsafe bridges, the President’s old-school approach of simply throwing more money at a broken system will do little to break the proverbial gridlock.
Unsustainable transportation spending year after year has done little to address the nation’s traffic woes in recent years, primarily because of the Transportation Department’s failure to focus Highway Trust Fund (HTF) dollars on the agency’s primary objective.
The Highway Trust Fund, created to maintain America’s roads and bridges, will be unable to meet its obligations in the coming months due to unwarranted expenditures. The Congressional Budget Office reported HTF would fall $100 billion short in 2015, and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx recently warned that the administration is slated to “bounce checks” as early as August. But the funding roadblock that transportation officials are fast approaching has more to do with priorities than a lack of money.
HTF is funded by the federal gas tax, but thanks to the propensity of transportation officials to spend that money on non-highway related projects, the fund has continually elicited bailouts — taking more than $34 billion in general fund transfers from 2008 to 2012.
A major reason for transportation insolvency is the department’s insistence on funding projects that are often unrelated to improving the roads and bridges that so many of us depend oneach day. Rather than asking commuters and taxpayers to dig deeper into their wallets, the federal government should stretch existing transportation dollars further by abandoning pet projects that are inherently local, have little impact on reducing traffic congestion, or better left to the private sector to determine their necessity.
President Obama and Vice President Biden have repeatedly demonstrated their interest in funding massive federally-backed transit projects. And while these projects may make wonderful backdrops for political photo-ops, their impact on reducing traffic congestion is negligible at best.
In Minnesota, for example, President Obama will tour a light rail operation facility and spoke at Union Depot, which services both Amtrak and light rail. Earlier this month, Mr. Biden spoke at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, congratulating Amtrak on unveiling a new line of locomotives. Not surprisingly, both have conveniently avoided any mention of the financial train-wreck Amtrak has been for taxpayers in their upbeat stump speeches.
Federally funded passenger rail has been nothing short of a disaster. It receives billions more in subsidies than other forms of transportation, but continues to operate in the red – primarily because it serves less than two percent of the population (by comparison, a larger number of people — 2.9 percent – actually walk to work each day).
The President’s liberal spending agenda is harming economic growth, not creating it as he continues to claim. The few jobs created through stimulus TIGER grants and other federal spending initiatives are only temporary, and will disappear as taxpayer funding dries up. Moreover, the President’s call for tax hikes (or as he refers to the concept “tax reform”) to help pay for HTF’s bloated expenditures is equally misguided and counterproductive. American businesses already pay the highest income tax rate in the developed world. Adding to their burden will only exacerbate the lethargic recovery. Every dollar the government spends is a dollar taken out of the private economy, and the Obama administration has shown that excessive government spending is not the path to prosperity.
The federal government must reprioritize its transportation expenditures or risk another slippery slope of dangerous spending. States and localities must be given more responsibility over local projects, and passenger rail should be left to the private sector. These kinds of common-sense reforms will help free up the billions of dollars that motorists pay in gas taxes to to do what they were intended to do in the first place: Fix our roads and bridges.