Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Dog Bites Man

The collapse of the I-35 bridge over the Mississippi in early August set off the predictable calls for more money to repair bridges.

More money, of course, means more taxes and more state jobs to be parceled out.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of the money already spent on bridge maintenance hasn't exactly done what was intended:

Virginia and Maryland officials used more than $30 million from the federal government's main bridge repair and replacement fund on projects that weren't bridges, according to interviews and government documents tracking spending over the past four years.

The federal bridge money was transferred to general transportation accounts that funded such things as streetlights in suburban Maryland and the widening of Ox Road in Fairfax County and King Street in Leesburg.


The money Virginia and Maryland moved to non-bridge projects represented about 5 percent of the more than $650 million government figures show the two states received since 2004 under the main federal bridge program. Although substantial additional federal and state funds are spent on bridges each year, the transferred millions could have benefited some of the local spans with falling concrete or corroding steel, some transportation advocates say.
Most conservatives aren't against taxes and government, per se [note I say "most"]. What we are against is waste and inefficiency reulting in our money being spent unwisely

When a private corporation diverts money from one purpose to another to the detriment of stockholders the corporation is punished -- a reduced stock price and reduced profits -- and sometimes those responsible go to jail. No such sanction exists with governments. Sometimes one has to wonder if any level of malfeasance in a state bureaucracy is actionable in any way, shape, or form.

If an unaccountable bureaucracy is coupled with a system that has minimal oversight and massive political interference then waste, fraud, and abuse are inevitable. In the case above, both Maryland and Virginia should be sanctioned by the grantor agency, in this case the Federal Highway Administration's Highway Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program, in at least the amount that has been diverted. It won't happen. And this abuse of the program won't stop governors, of both parties, from bleating for more money.

1 comment:

Joe Liberty said...

Now, in theory, I'm not opposed to states moving funds from one federal fund to another...after all, states SHOULD know better than the federal government what projects are more important, and if there actually are more surface improvements needed than bridge repairs, then so be it.

However, as you say, it's the lack of accountability that is most disturbing.

In addition, it also speaks to the intellectual dishonesty of the governor when he attempts to exploit the Minnesota tragedy to garner support of a gas tax increase. We've been getting plenty of money for bridge and surface repair, from the state transportation funds and the federal government alike. If there was actually a problem, the solution would be to move the existing money around, make it more accountable, streamline it, etc, rather than have a knee-jerk reaction to raise taxes.

But I've grown accustomed to not expecting such leadership from the one-party rule in this state anymore.