Federal Funding

Kevin Drum links approvingly to this idea from Ed Glaeser:

DE-FEDERALIZE TRANSPORT SPENDING: Most forms of transport infrastructure overwhelmingly serve the residents of a single state. Yet the federal government has played an outsized role in funding transportation for 50 years. Whenever the person paying isn’t the person who benefits, there will always be a push for more largesse and little check on spending efficiency. Would Detroit’s People Mover have ever been built if the people of Detroit had to pay for it? We should move toward a system in which states and localities take more responsibility for the infrastructure that serves their citizens.

I don’t necessarily have a problem with this, but if I were ever to agree to something like it, I’d have to extract some pretty serious concessions in return.  You’d have to radically strengthen metropolitan areas to control their own destiny, such as dedicated revenue sources, even if said metro crossed one or more state lines.  Metros should also be able to extract and keep some of the value that their ports provide to more inland areas.  Oh, and there should definitely be a higher gas tax, and more tolling.  And metros should be able to opt out of excessive Federal Railroad Administration requirements and “buy American” provisions that make trains so damn expensive in the U.S.

Glaeser’s bit about PPPs, on the other hand, needs more work:

This system has three big advantages. The private sector may be most cost-effective at construction and maintenance. The project only goes forward if private investors anticipate significant toll revenue. The private operator has every incentive to keep up maintenance, because it can only recoup costs if people keep driving the roads. There are also challenges involved in managing private concessions, as California’s experience with State Road 91illustrates, but these hurdles should be surmountable, especially if we have enough regulation to keep private roads and bridges safe. [Emphasis added]

Umm… no.  People will keep driving the road because it’s the only way to get from point A to point B.  That’s the whole point of a monopoly, and that’s why roads are typically public goods.

One response to “Federal Funding”

  1. Matt the Engineer

    The *control their own destiny* point is a big one. I don’t love our state-controlled government model. All too often the productive engine of cities are controlled far too strongly by states, which usually have a majority of rural population that have much different interests. I’d love to see a strong-city model government, where individual cities and towns have most of the power (and taxing authority), with the state only having control over intra-state functions.