Well, the White House just came out with another $2.3 trillion spending proposal, because obviously $1.9 trillion was far too parsimonious.
The package has been sold as an infrastructure plan, and sure enough, a little bit more than a quarter of it is enumerated, ostensibly, for transportation.
That, of course, leaves some $1.6 trillion and change for – other things. Those “other things” cover a rather extensive and gag-inducing laundry list, much of it the stuff of left-wing dreams long dismissed by even the most dedicated revolutionists as improbable fairy tales.
$2.3 trillion gives those of us dedicated to the analysis of such things much to dissect, more than is practicable in 750 words, so lets just start with a splinter, the minority of the transportation infrastructure bill that deals with transportation infrastructure.
The proposal calls for $115 billion for roads, highways, and bridges, and $20 billion for roadway safety. Okay, if you’re dedicated to the proposition of spending for transportation infrastructure, it follows that a decent chunk ought to go to – transportation infrastructure. Meaning roads, highways, and bridges because that is what most of our national transportation consists of. So then the question becomes – do we need to spend so much? Colorado aside, where our internal political donnybrooks over funding and priorities are keeping our roads a chronic mess, most of America’s transportation infrastructure is not on the verge of collapse. Which is not to say there is not a backlog of needs, or a clear Congressional role to play; but it is worth exploring whether or not most of the needed improvements ought to be less a matter of federal subsidization, umbilically tied to federal political priorities, or more a matter for local and state attention. Exploration which assumes, of course, that the states can get their own houses in order; which, sadly, is not universally the case (the map focuses on our beloved Centennial State.)
So now our attention turns to some less palatable aspects of the package. Like $85 billion for transit, for example.
Already some of the environmental zealots are decrying $85 billion as a paltry sum to go towards transit. Why, they ask despairingly, is so much more money going towards the roads which support the hated automobile, rather than to the moral purity that is the phantasmagoric web of high-speed rail, or whatever it is they envision? Well, simply because that is how Americans get themselves and their goods from place to place. True, the $85 billion for transit accounts for only 13 percent of the overall $621 billion of transportation spending in the offering; but then again, roads and bridges account for only 18 percent. Put another way, transit spending in the plan is 74 percent of what road and bridge spending is. Should it be that much? The split in contract authority from the Highway Trust Fund between highways and transit has long been 80/20 respectively, because that reflects the reality of American travel. In a more logical world, it would follow that a publicly-funded transportation infrastructure spending package would likewise reflect that reality.
The proposal’s largest and most glaring number is the most pernicious; $174 billion for the subsidization of electric vehicles, divvied up amongst non-refundable tax incentives for EV customers and grants to build out a charging network. It is especially hard to justify dedicating some 27 percent of the allotted transportation infrastructure spending to providing wealthy individuals a tax incentive to buy electric cars and funding a charging network for a product that is only barely penetrating the market. Responsible economists would call this, politely, a mis-allocation of scarce resources. Irresponsible economists label it “investment”. Responsible economists generally win out in the long run.
There are other provisions which are not so egregious; $25 billion for airport improvements is reasonable, and $17 billion for the forgotten stepchildren of the national transportation network, land ports and inland waterways, is probably a bit on the light end, despite their absolute indispensability to the maintenance of national commerce.
Ultimately, as has become acquired habit in Washington, the nuggets of necessary spending are buried in an avalanche of gratuitous political pork, bypassing legitimate intent. Nowhere, for instance, is there a mention of reducing the regulatory overhead that keeps needed infrastructure projects languishing in bureaucratic purgatory for years or decades. Instead we are presented with a plan to finance chimerical fantasies with debt and an array of economically indefensible tax measures, the defense of which we will now be subjected to for the foreseeable future.