America’s system for doling out transportation funding to states and localities is up for renewal. How will Congress change its transportation financing scheme– a bill well-known for its multi-layered web of earmarked funding? The Center for Public Integrity has been monitoring the bill’s reform and the close to 1800 lobbyists influencing the Hill’s decision.
The U.S. transportation spending bill, which is renewed and re-passed in Congress every few years, is notoriously filled with “pork.” Reporter Matthew Lewis describes past lobbying negotiations: “mostly what Congress did was keep folks happy and perpetuate the existing crazy-quilt system by adding new programs and earmarks that gave everyone more money.” Remember, this is the bill that was put under the national spotlight by 2008 Republican Vice-Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, for its wasteful spending on the Alaskan “bridge to nowhere”.
Now, the bill faces a complete overhaul and the Center for Public Integrity’s report makes it clear that reforming this bill is not a bad thing. However, the devil is in the details. Transparency must be increased: in the past, many states simply distributed money to municipal level government and left allocation up to local discretion. The revolving door is not a solution: States who have felt slighted by distribution schemes have gotten additional funding through the backdoor by lobbying to friends for earmarks. If a bill streamlining the funding process is to be produced, many political concessions must be made. Keep your eye on the Center for Public Integrity’s “TranspoBlog” and lobbyist-tracking map as the Center continues to monitor this reform process.
— Norah Mallaney