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Transportation Funding: First Things First

Sorting out infrastructure funding "clamor" should be a top priority.

Fri September 20, 2013 - National Edition
Giles Lambertson

The American Road & Transportation Builders Association is calling for more federal funding of highway and bridge construction projects, but I wouldn’t order that new excavator just yet.

After all, ARTBA started its Transportation Makes America Work (TMAW) campaign seven long years ago. Yet nothing in the federal funding story since 2006 suggests anyone at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue is listening.

In 2009 when the recession exacerbated things, a rescue was promised through a $900 billion shovel-ready, one-bill-fixes-all stimulus plan, and we all know how that turned out. Four years later, the situation continues to deteriorate: The Congressional Budget Office is suggesting a 92 percent decrease in federal funding of highway work for 2015.

The problem is that every special interest—and, yes, the construction industry is a special interest—wants help. They essentially are competing TMAW campaigns… Trees Mean Air Worthiness [green], Tuition Moms Are Watching [college cost reform], Trust Me: Agriculture’s Wonderful (farm subsidies), and on and on.

The word for this is clamor. Everyone is clamoring for aid. I applaud the ARTBA and other industry leaders for joining the fray, but as Janet Kavinoky, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce director, testified to Congress four years ago, “Over the years, these programs have devolved into a political redistribution of federal dollars instead of thoughtful investments benefiting the nation as a whole.”

To help Congress become a thoughtful investment institution—which may be oxymoronic, I realize—ARTBA and other industry leaders could set an example of restraint. How about just asking for five years of repair money to fix the nation’s 30 worst infrastructure situations? In five years, new policies may have restarted our economic engine and more federal transportation jobs then can be forthcoming.

I call this plan, First Things First (FTF). It’s not sexy, not even as an acronym, but we have to start somewhere.

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