Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced plans to free up $473 million in unspent infrastructure funds by letting states use the money for eligible projects that would improve transportation and create jobs.
The money--unspent funds appropriated between fiscal years 2003 and 2006--will no doubt come as a pleasant surprise to many state officials whose budgets are in a vise. Only one state, Wyoming, had no unobligated funds, while Alabama had the most at $51 million.
During the drawn-out fight to pass a transportation funding bill, advocates often complained that the congressional ban on earmarks didn't make sense when it came to transportation issues and that it stalled progress. Proponents of the ban on pet projects said it eliminated government waste.
Friday's decision shows that millions of obligated funds were, for whatever reason, never used. Is it a sign that earmarks aren't as necessary, or at least efficient, as some claim? (If allocation authority rested outside of Congress, the money may have been more quickly put to another use.) Or is Friday's decision just a reminder of the relevance of earmarks? Is it time to revisit the ban?