I testified to the congressional Joint Economic Committee on Wednesday regarding infrastructure, which means roads, bridges, pipelines, railroads, and other such assets. Here are some of the points I raised:
One reason to shift infrastructure financing to the private sector is that governments and their contractors often give taxpayers the shaft. They say a big project will cost a certain amount, but then the project gets underway and they reveal that—whoops!—the project actually costs much more. No one gets fired, the money has been spent, taxes and debt have been increased, and officials move onto the next boondoggle.
Everyone agrees that it’s rather stupid for a federal funding dispute to idle about 70,000 workers on airport-related construction. Just as absurd, there have been 20 stop-gap funding bills passed for the FAA since 2007. News stories are digging into the political disputes surrounding the FAA, but they aren’t addressing the root problem.
When government officials come up with what they claim to be a wonderful new idea, I often think of an old Saturday Night Live skit from 1990 poking fun at commercials for blue jeans. The skit’s scene is a group of middle-aged buddies getting ready to play basketball in their new “Bad Idea Jeans.” Each guy optimistically announces a plan to do something that is actually a “bad idea.” For example, a character says “I don’t know the guy but I’ve got two kidneys and he needs one, so I figured…” and “BAD IDEA” flashes across the screen. (The skit can be watched here.)
House Transportation Committee chairman John Mica (R-FL) and Rail Subcommittee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) announced that they will draw up legislation that would kill Amtrak’s desire to develop and operate high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor:
Last week I discussed the Obama administration’s decision to redistribute federal high-speed rail money rejected by Florida Gov. Rick Scott. I noted that “Florida taxpayers were spared their state’s share of maintaining the line, but they’re still going to be forced to help foot the bill for passenger-rail projects in other states.” My underlying point was that the states should be allowed to make their own transportation decisions with their own money.
Florida Governor Rick Scott deserves a big round of applause for dealing a major setback to the Obama administration’s costly plan for a national system of high-speed rail. As Randal O’Toole explains, the administration needed Florida to keep the $2.4 billion it was awarded to build a high-speed Orlando-to-Tampa line in order to build “momentum” for its plan. Instead, Scott put the interests of his taxpayers first and told the administration “no thanks.”
President Obama’s dream of connecting 80 percent of Americans to a high-speed rail line appears to be dead. Congress appropriated $8 billion for high-speed rail in the 2009 stimulus bill and $2 billion more in the 2010 appropriations bill. But, after newly elected governors of Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin rejected high-speed rail projects in those states, Congress declined to include any more funds in 2011 and it is unlikely to spend any more on this boondoggle as long as Republicans have a hold on the House.
The other day I noted that the budget cuts agreed to last week contained lots of familiar faces. Many of the agencies and programs getting a trim were also cut in 1995 in a rescissions package put together by Gingrich Republicans. In the fifteen intervening years, federal spending exploded across the board, which means that an occasional trim job doesn’t accomplish much if the goal is to limit government.