Patterico's Pontifications


Rigging Federal Transportation Awards So Waste Is Assured

Filed under: General — Aaron Worthing @ 5:34 pm

[Guest post by Aaron Worthing; if you have tips, please send them here.]

So what happens when a state says to the federal government, “you know what?  We don’t want to build this massive transportation project.  Instead just keep your money and go away”?  Does that money go back into the federal coffers?  Does it perhaps translate into lower taxes?  Or at the very least, does it mean a reduction of the deficit, and thus a reduction in the rate of increase of our debt?

Oh come on, you know I wouldn’t ask if the answer was the logical and sensible one.  What kind of boring post would that be?

That right, at least in the case of recently rejected Ohio and Wisconsin High Speed Rail projects, when the states refused to carry the project forward and politely told the Federal Government to keep its money, the Federal Government responded by…  oh, well, let’s let the Times Union explain it:

The nearly $1.2 billion in federal funds for high-speed rail projects that newly elected governors in Ohio and Wisconsin rejected has been redirected to other states, with New York receiving up to $7.3 million of the amount.

The money was redistributed to states in proportion to their initial high-speed rail awards, with California receiving up to $624 million, Florida in line for up to $342.3 million, and Washington State getting up to another $161.5 million.

You got that?  Even if a state refuses the money, the Federal Government will just spend the same amount on another state.  There are no savings, no reduction in our deficit (that is, the reduction of the rate of increase of our debt).  And tax cuts?  “F—k the President,” as one unidentified Democrat said reportedly before his party sank Obama’s much ballyhooed tax deal.  I guess Obama’s charm offensive didn’t work very well.  But with respect to the unidentified congressman, it is we the people who are going to be f—ked.

So think about it from the perspective of the governments of Ohio and Wisconsin.  Your citizens are still being taxed.  The deficit has gone up as a result of the spending.  But you are getting none of the benefit.  Am I the only person who thinks that this was designed to incentivize this project?  “We might as well take the money, because if we don’t someone else will.”

And consider also the allocation to the other states.  I mean, doesn’t that mean that this extra money will definitely be a waste?  They were ready to do it cheaper, and the Federal Government said, “nah, here’s some more money.  Find something to do with it.”

Really, the more and more I think about it, the more indefensible and infuriating it all is.

Hat Tip: Althouse.

[Posted and authored by Aaron Worthing.]

32 Responses to “Rigging Federal Transportation Awards So Waste Is Assured”

  1. For the CA project at least, it simply isn’t true that CA was going to do it cheaper. The federal money CA got is just a small part of the expense of the overall project. The money we’re getting that way replaces money we’re hoping to get from private companies who haven’t committed anything yet.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  2. It always saddens me to see people surprised by this con. Remember the talk of allowing states to “opt out” of some federal health care programs?

    Now do you remember any talk of allowing them to opt out of paying for it? Neither do I.

    roy (f572a6)

  3. aph

    yeah, maybe Cali would have kicked in more of their own money but for this extra money. But that is still a waste. if the original amount was “enough” why isn’t this “too much”?

    Aaron Worthing (b8e056)

  4. Florida residents don’t want the high speed rail, the politicians are the ones pushing it. So we’ll spend billions of federal and millions of state dollars on a rail system few will use. It will lose money every year and continue to be a drain on the state for decades.

    It appears the politicians still aren’t listening.

    navyvet (db5856)

  5. High speed rail seems incredibly expensive.

    I’d love an alternative to air travel to quickly get around the country without the security hassles. I’d like people to be permitted to carry their guns and remain unmolested.

    I know this is a complete fantasy. However, I wish Obama’s stimulus ideas had been constrained to improvements to infrastructure like rail or power stations. The amount we’ve already spent could have led to something amazing to leave our kids who will be paying for a lot of it.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  6. The trillions we have spent so far on “stimulus” would have bought hundreds of clean nuclear reactors to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

    tyree (41711c)

  7. tyree, with the way nuclear power scales out, electricity would have been incredibly cheap and hydrogen fuel cell cars would have been quite viable.

    We could have cut our dependence on oil drastically.

    The cache 22 is that the people who would spend money more wisely would actually like to spend very little of it. So the only people proposing insane stimulus levels equivalent to hundreds of nuclear reactors will actually spend it on rubbish. Like General Motors.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  8. WI and OH turned down the money because the states would have costs in perpetuity for maintenance and operations, etc.

    In the case of WI, the population density made the rider estimates pure fantasy. The Milwaukee to Madison rail line would have taken longer and cost exponentially more than driving a Hummer down I-94. The only benefit would be for those lucky Badger football ticket holders who wanted to party all day.

    neomom (fe44b3)

  9. High speed rail is the new hotness. Obama wants to reurbanize the population. Everybody loves Amtrak and wants to be just as popular and profitable.

    daleyrocks (c07dfa)

  10. I had planned high-speed rail in my backyard. You’d think I’d have scored $100K or so, but no. Perhaps I should sue.

    Kevin M (298030)

  11. Kevin M. – Form a union, you’ll get millions.

    daleyrocks (c07dfa)

  12. high speed rail in California will simply be an innovative earthquake detection system…..

    you’ll never catch me on one of them.

    (assuming it ever gets built instead of running out of money part way through, of course. %-)

    redc1c4 (fb8750)

  13. All train drivers, ticket sellers, maintenence,and administraters will be dues paying union members with dem party registration.Their union will finance the campaigns of democrats who award them lush pay and pensions.If there were an actual demand for this transportation service, private investors would build and operate it.The fact that all these govt. rail systems lose money is just like socialism,no matter how many times they fail to even break even more taxpayer funds will be spent to cover the losses.a political symbiosis.

    dunce (b89258)

  14. even more taxpayer funds will be spent to cover the losses

    That point is damn well proven by now, particularly with trains. They will pour ridiculous sums in, and then have the guts to say anyone wanting to stop wasting money is throwing away the initial investment, which will become bigger and bigger forever.

    One huge solution to many of these problems would be to outlaw unionized public sector employees of any kind. It’s an obvious and rampant source of corruption and waste.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  15. Dustin:

    They will pour ridiculous sums in, and then have the guts to say anyone wanting to stop wasting money is throwing away the initial investment, which will become bigger and bigger forever.

    Well somebody had to provide the perfect referent for the old saw, “Throwing good money after bad!”


    Dafydd the Adage Mavin (632d00)

  16. #8 neomom: what she said.

    At least some officials are rational and looking at lifetime costs of the system. Even if “they” give you the high speed rail system for free, the ongoing expenses for such an albatross will kill you.

    #6 and #7 Tyree, Dustin: I agree completely. If “they” were really concerned about dependence on foreign oil, “they” wouldn’t oppose nuclear power. For them it’s really about having the ability to veto what other people would like to do when it involves development and a higher standard of living.

    Ken in Camarillo (645bed)

  17. This is the way ALL government grant programs work, and I wouldn’t blame whomever is administrating it… congress adds language when they pass bills that create the allocated money. Not only do the other states get a new “fair share” but the office that manages the grant program has to put in the overtime and paperwork to help the States write up a good justification for the “extra” money.

    Jeremy (c5f11f)

  18. And consider also the allocation to the other states. I mean, doesn’t that mean that this extra money will definitely be a waste? They were ready to do it cheaper and the Federal Government said, “nah, here’s some more money. Find something to do with it.”

    Google is your friend. A little (30 second) investigation on your part would have revealed that it definitely wouldn’t be a waste, because the high-speed rail projects sought by the other states (NY, FL, IL, etc) were not fully funded by the federal government.

    Kman (d30fc3)

  19. And it is simply an imperative that the federal government pay for everything in kmart’s world.

    JD (b98cae)

  20. “because the high-speed rail projects sought by the other states (NY, FL, IL, etc) were not fully funded by the federal government.”

    Kman – I definitely want my tax dollars going to fund stupid high speed rail projects in other states! Enuf said.

    daleyrocks (c07dfa)

  21. Kman – I definitely want my tax dollars going to fund stupid high speed rail projects in other states! Enuf said.

    Daley, how do you feel about your tax dollars going to build roads in Afghanistan? Just curious.

    Kman (d30fc3)

  22. Gosh, I think I heard once that drug dealers sometimes give away their product for free! I wonder if there’s a parallel here.

    Don’t worry about people not actually using the high speed rail systems… if they ever get built. By that time there will be ways to ‘incentivize’ participation in the government travel program.

    Gesundheit (aab7c6)

  23. Kstooge, we’ve had to build infrastructure in every war to transsport troops, supplies and equipment.

    wiff (32086e)

  24. Gesundheit: examples from elsewhere suggest people do actually use high speed passenger rail, when it’s actually high speed (as opposed to the not-high-speed rail line they implemented between NY and Boston).

    This might not transfer to the US, though, because there aren’t good public transit systems in most cities, so using HSR may force you to rent a car in your destination.

    On the other hand, if it’s time and price competitive with airlines, why wouldn’t people use it?


    The issue in CA is a tough one. There’s only a limited amount that we can add to our airport infrastructure, but demand for flights is going to increase, as our population (while growing more slowly than before in percentate terms) is still increasing substantially in absolute terms. Much of that growth is expected to come in the central valley, which has a *terrible* transportation infrastructure, and a virtually nonexistant air transport infrastructure.

    HSR will be very helpful for medium-range trips within the central valley and for commuting from the central valley to either LA or SF. I think it’s utility for LASF trips is lower because I don’t expect it to be price competitive.

    But the cost is insane. (On the other hand, the cost of comparable freeway upgrades where they could be done would also be insane; there are no cheap and easy options for this one).

    My big pet peeve on this is how the wealthy communities on the SF peninsula, which voted overwhelmingly for the bond measure to start building the thing, are seriously opposed to building it along the train line already existing in the peninsula, and want the state to pay for putting it underground. It’s absurd: if the peninsula wants it trenched or tunnelled (a far more expensive option than an aboveground train), the peninsula should pay for it.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  25. Ken, Dustin: I used to be opposed to nuclear power: events like Chernobyl were terrifying, and my feeling at the time was that the risk was simply too great -> even for a very low probability event, the injury would be so large that the probability was intolerable.

    Then I learned that the environmental movements of late-communist Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary were pro-nuclear-power. Because, as bad as Chernobyl was, the alternative in their world was dirty coal.

    That forced me to think about it.

    I would still prefer a world in which we worked out the technology for cheap solar. But until we’ve got that world, nuclear really seems like the best option. I’d want to be sure we do everything in our power to make it as safe as possible – and i’m not convinced that it won’t just replace dependency on oil with dependency on uranium, whose supplies may also be geographically restricted. But it would, for a while, create cheap, plentiful power at minimal environmental cost.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  26. aphrael, there is quite a risk with nuclear power, and it’s important not to understate it.

    But there is no risk that people will get cancer and die with coal burning because it’s an actual certainty.

    Cheap solar sounds like a great thing to have in the future, if it’s figured out.

    I think nuclear’s risks can be controlled, and hopefully bridge the gap to some kind of technological breakthrough. When we realize just how tremendous the gains are, thinks like hydrogen fuel for cars (which takes a lot more electricity than batteries, but is far cleaner) start making sense.

    You mention people would use HSR. I would, if it presented an alternative to the TSA. I’m not happy with enormous spending programs when we’re out of money, but if we’re going to have huge stimulus, we need to leave something more tangible to the people who will pay for it.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  27. if it presented an alternative to the TSA

    It probably wouldn’t. My guess is that TSA would institute the same kind of security theatre for HSR as it has for airplanes, justified by the fear of a bomb going off at 180MPH.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  28. Aphrael, you’re probably right about that.


    Dustin (b54cdc)

  29. In the Spring of ’08, Cong. Jeb Hensarling proposed a Payroll Tax Holiday (can’t remember if it was for six, or twenty-four months).
    Whatever it was, it would certainly have worked better than the ObamaStimulus, and would not have cost as much.
    But then, Teh Won wouldn’t be able to propose the same thing now as part of the tax package.

    AD-RtR/OS! (b8ab92)

  30. “…whose supplies may also be geographically restricted…”
    Which points out the importance of “Breeder Reactor” technology; and development of the next stage:
    Fushion – which is, after all, solar-in-a-box!

    AD-RtR/OS! (b8ab92)

  31. AD – unfortunately, we don’t have any evidence yet that says we can have a controlled fusion reaction in which energy output is greater than the energy input needed to start it and control it.

    aphrael (9802d6)

  32. Fusion power is just 20 years away from practical application … and has been for about 50 years.

    SPQR (26be8b)

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