Thursday, June 07, 2012

What To Do With $70 Billion in Unspent Earmarks

Senator Tom Coburn has announced that the federal government has more than $70 billion in unspent earmarks on its books that must account for. This includes monies that were designated for state and local projects that those localities later chose not to do.
The $70 billion figure is money that's been unspent for years, including $13 billion in road-building money that was earmarked to the wrong places, or for projects that states and localities no longer want to build.

In one case Mr. Coburn said $29 million was dedicated to a highway interchange in Newport News, Va., in 1998, but the state abandoned the project. The congressman who sponsored the earmark died in 2000, but the money remains unspent.

In another case Atlanta is still holding onto $2.7 million in funding that was allowed to be spent only on the 1996 Olympics.

"A dollar taken from the taxpayers left unspent is a dollar not needed by the government or a dollar that did not go to someone in need," Mr. Coburn said in a letter accompanying his report. "It represents a failure to budget wisely."
That's a small sum of the total federal budget and the ongoing deficit, but it's a not insignificant sum of money that could go to any number of major infrastructure projects around the nation.

It could secure the financing (or outright pay for) for any number of bridge and tunnel projects and other critical infrastructure projects. That includes air traffic control system upgrades that would boost efficiencies for the airlines and travelers by reducing congestion at airports and reduce the amount of fuel needed to reach any number of destinations. The economic benefits of upgrading the air traffic control system could reach into the billions of dollars annually as flight times are cut by routing planes more directly to their destinations.

It could help fully fund the entire 2d Avenue Subway, which would enable hundreds of thousands of commuters to more easily reach their destinations in New York City. It could fund the replacement spans for the Tappan Zee, Goethals Bridges, or the Pulaski Skyway. It could mean the construction of the Gateway Tunnel and Portal Bridges on the NEC.

It could mean construction of replacement spans for hundreds of deficient bridges, overpasses, and roads around the nation.

It could mean addressing deteriorating conditions of sanitary sewers and water delivery systems.

It could mean addressing funding shortfalls for National Park infrastructure, such as rehabilitating roads, visitor centers, and habitat restoration.

All of these have tangible economic benefits - not only immediate benefits due to construction work and the jobs created, but the long term benefits of improving and maintaining long-neglected infrastructure.

This is one of the major shortfalls of the ARRA of 2009 - it didn't sufficiently address infrastructure work, despite plenty of shovel-ready projects around the nation that would have benefited from the work.

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