Senate Decides Infrastructure Really Isn't So Important After All

If there’s one thing President Obama and the Democrat Party insist upon, it’s the importance of spending a lot of money on “infrastructure” right away.  Every Obama spending plan is packed with money for “roads and bridges.” 

“We’ve got roads and bridges across the country that need rebuilding,” the President declared in Detroit on Labor Day.  “We’ve got private companies with equipment and manpower. We’ve got more than 1 million unemployed construction workers ready to get dirty. There is work to be done and workers to do it. We just need Congress to get on board.”

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) decided to take Obama at his word.  He did some traveling with the President, talked with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and grew convinced that reconstruction efforts were a priority.

To this end, Paul introduced an amendment to the fiscal year 2012 appropriations bill that would pump $700 million into the Highway Bridge program, opened his arms, and waited for that bipartisan support to come rolling in.

There was just one problem with Paul’s amendment: it didn’t raise anyone’s taxes, or give the government more money to spend.  Instead, it eliminated “transportation enhancement funds” for “beautification projects” – such as “movie theaters, squirrel sanctuaries, turtle tunnels and flower beds,” as explained in a statement from his office.  Also: bike paths.  Lots and lots of bike paths.

Joan Lowy of the Associated Press criticized Paul for exaggerating the absurdity of some of these projects:

Paul and other critics say the program is bankrolling extravagant projects, such as a giant roadside coffee-pot shaped building, movie theaters and turtle tunnels.

But in many cases, these projects have been exaggerated or misrepresented. The coffee pot, for example, didn’t receive transportation aid; the movie theater is really a driver’s education classroom, and the turtle tunnels are a wildlife eco-passage that allows animals to cross a busy Florida highway. Proponents of the project say motorists were swerving to avoid killing turtles, alligators and other critters.

Also, landscaping and scenic beautification is just one of 12 areas that receive money through the program. Paul’s amendment would have barred states from using federal transportation money for any one of the dozen categories, including bike and walking paths, bike lanes and pedestrian safety projects.

I guess we’ll have to give her the giant coffee pot, if it didn’t actually get any transportation money… but none of that other stuff is “infrastructure.”  Senator Paul was clearly under the impression President Obama meant what he said when he pleaded for America to make rebuilding bridges a high priority – certainly higher than turtle tunnels.

Alas, the Paul amendment failed in the Senate this morning, 38-60. 

“With nearly 25 percent of our nation’s bridges deemed either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, we need to make their reconstruction a priority over errant beautification projects,” a disappointed, but probably not surprised, Senator Paul said in a statement. “My home state of Kentucky has two major arteries in need of immediate repair – one bridge has been shut down, the other in desperate need of repair – and thousands more across the country face the same conditions.  I am disappointed my colleagues failed to see this as a priority, affecting our entire nation’s infrastructure and commerce through transportation, and were unable to address this issue without adding to our ever-expanding national debt.”

So it looks like “infrastructure” really isn’t that important after all.