Congress has created an ongoing crisis in the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). Year after year, policymakers spend more on highway and transit aid to the states than the HTF raises from gas taxes and other dedicated revenues. CBO projects that annual HTF spending will be $53 billion and rising in coming years, while HTF revenues will be $40 billion. That leaves an annual funding gap of at least $13 billion.
Government spending on highways and streets (light blue) and transportation (brown) have been roughly flat the past five years after surging the prior five years. It is spending on education (dark blue) that has plunged, and which has dragged down overall government construction spending. I don’t know why construction on schools and colleges soared and then plunged, but that is the main cause of the recent downward trend in public construction, not any form of transportation.
In the wake of the terrible train crash near Philadelphia, people are asking whether Amtrak budget cuts could have been a contributing factor. The short answer is that federal rail spending has not been cut. The longer answer is that rail spending has been greatly misallocated by Congress. Rather than being spent on maintenance along heavily used corridors (particularly in the Northeast), the federal rail budget has been frittered away on uneconomical rural routes and high-speed rail schemes.
According to opinion polls, Americans think the federal government is too big and too powerful. On average, people think that more than half of the tax dollars sent to Washington are wasted. When Gallup asked people what the most important problem facing the nation was, more people identified “government” than any other concern, including the economy, immigration, health care, and terrorism.
The federal government runs more than 2,300 subsidy programs. One of the problems created by the armada of hand-outs is that many programs work at cross-purposes.
The federal government operates the air traffic control (ATC) system as an old-fashioned bureaucracy, even though ATC is a high-tech business. It’s as if the government took over Apple Computer and tried to design breakthrough products. The government would surely screw it up, which is the situation today with ATC run by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
While the Obama administration has focused on tax increases over the years, Canada has focused on tax cuts. The new Canadian budget, out a couple weeks ago, summarized some of the progress that they have made.
Since treaties in the 19th century, the federal government has provided educational aid to American Indians. These days, the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) owns about 180 Indian schools, which have about 41,000 students in Arizona, New Mexico, South Dakota, North Dakota, and other states.
Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley is readying himself for a White House run. His recent rhetoric on economics shows that he will run to the left of Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. After two terms of an unpopular left-wing president, that is surely the last thing the country needs.
A Wall Street Journal story today looks at government spending through the lens of the national income and product accounts (NIPA). The article says that as government spending rises, it is “no longer dragging on growth.” Unlike recent years when spending was supposedly cut, the government today “has ceased to be a drag on growth.” But that is an unwarranted conclusion from the NIPA data, which are produced by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).