Thursday, October 06, 2005

Time to Give Back our Transportation Pork?

Ronald Utt, a Falmouth resident and scholar with the Heritage Foundation, makes the case for Virginians to return some half-billion dollars in 152 different transportation-funding earmarks to help the nation pay for the reconstruction of areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The recently enacted federal transportation package was crammed with about $25 billion in earmarks nationally. Cancelling those projects would go a long way to paying for disaster relief, suggests Utt in a column in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star.

Wrote Utt:

Virginia's congressional delegation willfully diverted more than half a billion dollars to 152 earmarks, among which are new horse-riding trails in the High Knob area of Jefferson National Forest, a new forest service facility on the Virginia Creeper Trail, restoration of the historic Hillman House in St. Paul, the Blue Ridge Music Center, the Rocky Knob Heritage Center, historic preservation of the Bristol Train Station, water mill preservation at White's Mill Trail, a river walk in Pound, a new entryway for James Madison's Montpelier, and a streetscape for Staunton.

Also troubling is the diversion of as much as $6 million from VDOT to the U.S. National Park Service--whose budget this year will total more than $2.3 billion. Why not fund it from there?

The idea of giving up the roundabouts on U.S. Route 50 really hurts me, but the fiscal profligacy in Washington, D.C. hurts me even more. I think Utt has a good point. We should give the earmarks back.


At 8:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or maybe we should divert money for horse riding trails and riverwalks to transportation we really need.

At 9:07 AM, Blogger Steve Haner said...

No, no, no, but we could remove some of the earmarks in many cases and leave the money in the "general" pot so the Commonwealth Transportation Board can make the decisions on roads vs. rail vs. mass transit, this project or that one. Virginia is a donor state -- we only get 90.5 cents back on every dollar we pay in federal fuels taxes. With tne new bill it goes up slowly to 92 cents (wow). We don't want the STATE diverting transporation tax money to other purposes, why would we want the feds to do it?

At 9:35 AM, Blogger Steve Haner said...

I did a quick check again on the numbers I got when the federal bill passed. Virginia's "return" is indeed set to rise from 90.5 to 92 percent by 2009. Texas is in the same situation.

Mississippi and Louisiana are also donor states, starting at 90.5 percent return on their federal dollars, but they are slated to rise to 96 percent under the bill. Alabama, less damaged of course, was not a donor state to begin with and its return is slated to rise to 107 percent under the new formula.

We have all made personal contributions and will make more, but if our leaders are feeling the cold financial reality creeping up on them after their many promises to "pick up the tab" in the Gulf states, it will take more than a few billion in diverted highway funds from the other 46 states to rebalance the books.

At 7:38 AM, Blogger Steve Haner said...

I did a bit more thinking about this over the evening. I certainly hope that these regions are held harmless and don't get fewer federal dollars just because economic activity and federal gas taxes dip, although I suspect once the reconstruction starts that won't be a problem. And it might make sense to put a permanent emergency reserve fund in the federal highway trust accounts, a tiny amount skimmed off the top for just such a contingency -- and available for Virginia when a Cat 4 hits Virginia Beach head on.

But the fellow from Heritage is just making a (valid) point about the earmarks.

At 1:42 PM, Blogger Toomanytaxes said...

Keep Virginia's road money, but ditch the ear-mark for expanding Metrorail to Dulles. Substituting Bus Rapid Transit could move just as many people, but at much less cost to taxpayers, plus the Tysons Corner landowners could not wreck what little quality of life is left in northern Fairfax County.


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