The Transportation Department found some extra coins in the cushions of the couch and will immediately make available $470 million in infrastructure funds to the states for job creation projects. Most amusing is how this unspent money came to arrive in the DoT’s coffers: it’s because of the Congress’ newfound antipathy to earmarks:
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will announce Friday that more than $470 million will be made immediately available for projects such as repairing crumbling roads and bridges, a White House official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan has not been publicly announced [...]
The money initially was allocated to the Transportation Department for special projects known as earmarks from 2003 to 2006. The Republican-controlled House has since banned earmarks, which are provisions tucked into bills which direct taxpayer dollars to lawmakers’ pet projects [...]
But the White House official said money awarded by previous Congresses should be spent to improve the nation’s highways, transit systems and ports. Instead of letting the money sit idle, it should be used to put Americans back to work and repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, the official said.
This just shows how stupid the war on earmarks was from a money-saving perspective. The money was already authorized and appropriated; earmarks just directed where the money went, from the local level. Sure, there’s an element of corruption to the earmarking process, but at the root, banning earmarks just transfers the authority from the legislative to the executive branch as far as how the money gets spent. And now DoT is making good on that transfer. And they’re going to the states directly to identify fast-track projects that will inject money into the economy and create jobs.
The ban on earmarks, in other words, gave the White House a $470 million job creation kitty. It’s not much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s more than what might have happened if the money simply stayed earmarked and remained unspent.
As far as stimulus and infrastructure projects go, this is about the limit of what the Obama Administration can do without Congressional help. So at least they’re capitalizing on the opportunity.
UPDATE: More guidance on this from the White House.