After catching flack from both fiscal conservatives and the transit lobby, House Speaker John Boehner has postponed consideration of a transportation bill. Fiscal conservatives (including my fellow Cato scholar Michael Tanner) objected to the bill’s deficit spending; transit interests (including Republicans from New York and Chicago), objected to the bill’s lack of dedicated funds to public transit.
The Washington Post did a great job last week comparing spending earmarks by members of Congress with the locations of property they own in their states. Some members are apparently using our tax dollars to expand infrastructure near their homes and businesses, thus gaining a personal benefit from federal spending.
A Washington Post investigation identified dozens of examples of federal policymakers directing federal dollars to projects that benefited their property or an immediate family member. Members of Congress have been enriching themselves at taxpayer expense? In other news, the sun rose this morning.
The American Society of Civil Engineers does a flashy study every year called “America’s Infrastructure Report Card.” The wrench-turners give a grade of “D” to the mainly-government infrastructure they examine. Based on the low grade, they ask for taxpayers to cough up another $2.2 trillion so the engineers can fix the supposed mess.
When I testified to the Joint Economic Committee yesterday, the subject of bridges came up again and again. Numerous people said or implied that our bridges are crumbling and falling down, and that more funding was desperately needed.
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.)