GOP infrastructure funding proposal is off by 5,505 percent

Posted on September 10, 2011


One of the Republican Party’s proposals for how to create infrastructure jobs without spending a dime has a gigantic pothole right in the middle of it.

The proposal, which has been advanced by top GOP leadership, involves eliminating a law that requires states to set aside 10 percent of the federal transportation funding they receive for use on transportation repairs. Speaker of the House John Boehner wrote a letter to President Obama on Sept. 6, framing the idea as the GOP’s preferred alternative to Congress appropriating additional money for infrastructure repairs.

Boehner’s letter said: “Current law requires that states set aside 10 percent of their surface transportation funds for transportation enhancements, which must be used for items such as establishment of transportation museums, education activities for pedestrians and bicyclists, acquisition of scenic easements, historic preservation, operation of historic transportation facilities, etc. While many of the initiatives funded by this mandatory set-aside may be worthy projects, eliminating this required set-aside would allow states to devote more money to the types of infrastructure programs you are advocating without adding to the deficit.”

Sounds like a winner — increasing transportation funds without increasing transportation spending. There’s only one little wrinkle in the plan: Boehner’s letter gets the fundamental details of the law wrong.

There *IS* no requirement that states set aside 10 percent of all federal surface transportation funds for purposes of funding Transportation Enhancement projects. The Department of Transportation confirms that the law says that they must set aside 10 percent of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) funding for those purposes.

So what’s the big deal, right? Federal funds are federal funds, right?  Wrong-amundo.

The FHWA -– a sub-agency of the Department of Transportation –- received $927.6 Million in federal funds for fiscal year 2011. The federal funding for surface transportation in FY2011 was more than $50 Billion.

If the GOP law required use of the FHWA funds (as the current law actually requires), it would amount to $92,760,000.

If the GOP law required use of the surface transportation funds (as they are wrongly proposing), it would amount to $5,200,000,000.

So Boehner and the rest of the GOP supporting the idea are only off in their savings calculations by $5,107,240,000, or 5,506 percent.

But despite the use of standard-issue (i.e., proven wrong) GOP “fuzzy math,” that doesn’t mean the GOP is going to abandon the idea (“Let’s exaggerate the hell out of the numbers to make it seem like we’re actually doing something constructive”).

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said that Republican leadership is basing its proposal on the knowledge that the money would come from FHWA funding, even though they ARE AWARE that the language they will use in the proposal will demand that the money must come from “surface transportation” funds. Boehner, McConnell, Cantor and the rest of the GOP leadership still demand the elimination of the 10 percent requirement – even though it doesn’t EXIST in the context they propose.

Yup … there’s nothing like good, old-fashioned basic core-contextual flaws to make a law really, really useless … and make really good factually incorrect sound bites.