Whatever your views on the best way to stimulate the U.S. economy, you'd be hard-pressed to find an economist who would disagree that job creation and improvements to and expansion of our nation's transportation infrastructure would be good things. And the good news is they go hand in hand.
It's a point that Thomas J. Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and previously head of the American Trucking Associations, makes often. "We are missing a huge opportunity to ignite economic growth, improve our global competitiveness, and create jobs," he said during recent testimony before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. "This is not just transportation for transportation's sake. Without more robust economic growth, the U.S. will not be able to create the 20 million jobs needed in this decade to replace those lost during the recession and to keep up with a growing workforce, will not have the revenue to get the deficit under control, will not have the ability to keep pace with global competitors, and will not be able to provide our children and grandchildren with a better future."
Widely considered one of the most influential power brokers in our nation's capital, Donohue has been banging this drum for over two decades. It's hard to argue with his point.
Why, then, is it so hard to get the federal government to focus on what may be the single best step it can take to improve our economy?
Because the mechanism for making that happen comes in the form of the congressional reauthorization bill for surface transportation programs, such as roads, bridges, railroads, and public transit. Unfortunately, in addition to being the means to further investment in infrastructure, it is also perhaps the best single example of congressional earmarking and pork barrel spending you'll ever come across.
A just-released report from MapLight, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization that tracks money's influence on politics, reveals the vast amounts of special interest money being thrown at members of Congress from organizations and businesses with a vested interest in the final form of the reauthorization bill.
These groups run the gamut from construction interests to labor unions, environmental groups, railroads, trucking groups, public transit supporters, and even bicycling advocacy groups.
Here's a quick rundown of contributions from just a few of these interests, as reported by MapLight:
Everyone, it seems, wants a piece of the surface transportation reauthorization pie. And clearly, it's a meat pie. Pork pie, to be precise.