Oops, That Didn’t Work Out So Well!   Leave a comment

The law of unintended consequences rears its head once again. Prohibition was a well-intended notion with a very dark downside. Smoky the Bear meant well, but stored a lot of fuel for super-forest fires decades later. And, now — read it and weep.


This story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune highlights a problem with the ban on “earmarks” instituted two years ago by Congress.

Such earmarks were a long-standing prerogative of Congress for decades. Members would slip earmarks into spending bills that designated a portion of that spending bill to go to a specific project, a specific city, a specific state. It allowed Congress – who is supposed to make the laws and direct the government – to specify where allocated funds were going to be spent.

It became abused in recent years, adding massive amounts of spending to bills and costing taxpayers a lot of money. So the GOP-led House banned “earmarks” in 2011, then renewed the ban in November 2012.

And, now Minnesota and a lot of other states and localities are discovering that they can’t direct funds toward projects, so … where is the money going?

This year’s funding is determined through a bureaucratic budget process, not by congressional appropriations.

AH! The administrative state is involved! Who knows where the money is going, but we can bet it won’t go where the people want it because the administrative state does not exist to serve the people.

Road funding should remain with Congress, but they’ve tied their own hands. They can only give the federal Department of Transportation a budget and hope it will go where they want and it is now clear that it isn’t going to.

That was a dumb idea!

The previous system of earmarks was broken and corrupt. It allowed Washington to spend money it didn’t have on projects most of Congress knew nothing about and, in some cases, projects that didn’t need to be built. The Gravina Island Bridge would have serviced an island that has 50 people and a fairly small airport. The people living on the island didn’t want it – many of them make a living operating water taxis from the airport to Ketchikan. Clearly, the system of politicians using public funds to build unnecessary projects needed to go away. But giving the money to the administrative state to do whatever it wants is clearly a REALLY BAD idea.

So why can’t Congress come up with a process that cuts through federal bureaucratic red tape by allowing projects to be prioritized (by Congress) in a transparent merit-based manner? Elected officials are far better suited than Washington bureaucrats to determine which local projects should receive federal funds, but even they should be constrained by rules and a public process.

The administrative state always leads to tyranny, because the people are not consulted when administrators make decisions with our money and resources. The intention to limit pork barrel spending was a good one, but the unintended consequences are that the administrative state now controls our road funds.

What are WE the people going to do about it?

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