Highway funding languishes while other matters distract Congress

An important item for Western Colorado is coming up in Congress, and it’s in danger of being lost in things like the president’s latest budget request.

Neither the president nor congressional Democrats intend to allow a vote on his budget because of its obvious pandering to his core voting bloc at the expense of the nation. Democratic senators would have to vote against it, just like they were forced to vote on the budget suggested by the president in May 2011. It failed 97-0.

It’s all just political posturing while important and expensive bills like the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 2012 are overlooked.

If there’s something that’s important to Western states, especially areas like western Colorado, its roads and their funding. How the federal government went from building roads at least tenuously related to regulating interstate commerce, to now having its fingers in every curb and gutter project across the country, is the story of another rabbit punch to the Constitution we must save for another discussion.

The regrettable fact is, for some time the feds have been transporting money from state taxpayers to the Potomac and sending them back to fund highway construction festooned with all sorts of requirements to receive the funds.

For example, it was constant pressure from the federal government to lower the presumptive level for driving under the influence of alcohol that forced Colorado to reduce its legal blood alcohol level from 0.1 to 0.08.  There is also periodic pressure to coerce states, like Colorado, into adopting mandatory helmet laws for motorcycles by using the same tactics of approving or denying highway grants.

These bills are traditionally Christmas trees of earmarks and boondoggles for individual legislator’s districts, but this latest bill is somewhat different. At more than $260 billion and 846 pages long, it seems practically a pamphlet and walking around money in the upside-down world of Washington, where borrowing money to fund nonproductive projects to buy votes somehow is now referred to as “growing the economy.”

But this bill has some features that conservatives can and should support. According to the Washington Examiner, it contains no earmarks, does away with requiring the states to spend 10 percent of their federal transportation funds on bike lanes and so forth, mandates approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and stops draining off gas tax revenues to mass transit. It also pays for this with increased energy royalties through opening up more places to explore for oil and gas.

There are also some reasons not to like the bill, such as the inequitable distribution back to the states under the highway funding formulas. Some states receive substantially more money back from the government than they paid in, while others receive less. The idea that people in Nevada should be paying for roads in Missouri that may not even be truly interstate, seems wrong.

I know, all roads eventually could lead to state boundaries and thus affect interstate commerce, but so does your driveway, and no one’s paying for that yet.

Obviously, a number of these provisions cause palpitations among Democrats, especially big-city interests that need you to fork over that gas tax you pay driving back and forth from Delta so they can fund mass transit in Chicago.

This is the crux of the problem for places like western Colorado, where distances are exponentially greater than those traveled by urban dwellers and maintaining them from the ravages of our weather is paramount.

Let’s face it; Big Blue progressives don’t like the whole idea of the mobility and freedom of the American automobile, especially as exemplified in the open spaces here in the West. Some of you have been spotted driving whatever and wherever you want, with firearms in your vehicle and sometimes a Bible on your way to church!

That’s just too much. Think about it, mass transit allows a government bureaucrat to decide where you go, when you go and what you can bring with you; a statist nirvana. Take a look at this latest highway bill. It has some ideas to support. Let the folks in Chicago buy their own buses.

Rick Wagner offers more thoughts on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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so, the President, who is required by law to present a budget to congress is playing politics when he does so? Democrats are messing up jobs by getting in the way of a transportation bill that is supposed to be paid for with oil shale development, which won’t be developed in this century? I’ll never understand how a Republican thinks. Maybe that’s because you don’t.

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