An Ominous Return of Earmarks in the House Transportation Bill | Citizens Against Government Waste

An Ominous Return of Earmarks in the House Transportation Bill

The WasteWatcher

On June 10, 2021, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation (INVEST) in America Act, a five-year, $547 billion transportation reauthorization bill.

The legislation provides one of the first opportunities for members of Congress to add earmarks.  Unsurprisingly, the INVEST in America Act is full of such projects.  The legislation contains $5.7 billion in earmarks, or slightly more than one third of the $14.9 billion that was requested.

While the majority of the earmarks were added by Democrats, Republicans also widely participated in the process.  Of the $5.7 billion in earmarks, Democrats received roughly $4 billion, with Republican legislators securing $1.7 billion.

The highway bill allocates earmark funding for a range of local projects, including:  $1 million added by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) for the Port of Oakland for solar, battery storage, and electric vehicle truck charger deployment; $189,357 to build a sidewalk on Southcot Drive in Casselberry, Florida inserted by Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.); and, $23,408 to rehabilitate Royal Lakes Road by Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.).  Rep. Garett Graves (R-La.) also received $8 million for a pre-engineering design of a freight corridor in Baton Rouge.  Rep. Graves made a splash by requesting $945.6 million for the construction of a bridge in his district, but the project went unfunded.

Legislators went all-in on funding bike paths, including:  $4 million by Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) for the Walk Bike Columbia project; $3.8 million by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) for the North San Jose Bike Plan; $3 million by Rep. Eleanor Norton (D-D.C.) for protected bike lanes; and, $800,000 by Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) for the Aurora Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan Update project.

Most of the earmarks cost between $1 million and $5 million; however, 25 projects received $20 million, including five in California.  One of these, requested by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), will fund a program to manage the lanes on Interstate 15 and State Route 78 in Escondido.  Around $99.5 million of the earmarks were allocated toward electric bus infrastructure, while around $88.9 million went to “sidewalk projects.”

Legislators did not request earmarks in only four states:  Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

The House version of the highway bill demonstrates that legislators will eagerly jump at the chance to include earmarks.  Such projects are inherently wasteful.  They circumvent the practice of funding projects based on merit and serve as a currency of corruption.  Unfortunately, seeing as Congress has yet to pass any of the twelve appropriations bills that fund the federal government, there will be many more opportunities this summer to pile on parochial spending.

-Irene Caracioni

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