March 3, 2010
The U.S. Department of Transportation furloughed nearly 2,000 employees without pay on March 1, temporarily shutting down highway reimbursements to states worth hundreds of millions of dollars, national anti-drunk driving efforts, and multi-million dollar construction projects across the country. The surface transportation authorization lapse was, by some accounts, the first such actual lapse since the Highway Trust Fund was created in 1956.
Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning found himself in the position of being able to shut down the program – and he did. But why? Because of a concern with how the highway money was being spent? Because of a concern that Kentucky wasn’t getting its fair share? Because he was concerned that not enough was being spent on transit? NO, NO, and NO! He was upset with proposed legislation that extends tax credits for COBRA health coverage, unemployment insurance for 400,000 people, as well as the short-term extension of the Highway Trust Fund. He is rightly concerned that our current national deficit is $14 trillion and these pieces of legislation will only add to it. But, is this the right way to fix it? What will the deficit be when this issue is resolved? Is there a more constructive way to address this issue? How much more damage will his action result in? Couldn’t he have done this two weeks ago, a month ago?
Because of the shutdown, federal inspectors were removed from critical construction projects throughout the country. The furloughs also disrupted safety programs that operate in partnership with states and advocacy groups, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). These programs are designed to reduce traffic injuries and fatalities totaling 37,000 a year in areas including distracted driving, child passenger safety, and motorcycle safety.
In order to overcome Bunning’s objection, Senate leaders will schedule procedural and other votes this week. Late Tuesday night, March 2, the Senate acted to break its logjam, extending the Highway Trust Fund for another 30 days. Just think, in 30 days we may get to do this again. Stay tuned for more inaction!