Use it or lose it. That’s the order from the Department of Transportation to states that are sitting on nearly a half-billion dollars in unspent earmark funds.
Some of the appropriations date back nearly 10 years and remain unspent at a time when hundreds of projects are languishing unfunded and thousands of construction and related workers are out of work.
|In FY 2006, $3,465,000 was earmarked for the University of Arizona Science Center Bridge. None of that money has been spent.|
Therefore, DOT says, states that have stalled earmark transportation projects on the books must identify by Oct. 1 how they will use the funds to move those projects forward and must obligate the money by Dec. 31.
Otherwise, the funding will be canceled and proportionally redistributed in FY 2013 to states that met the deadline, the Obama Administration announced Friday (Aug. 17).
“We are freeing up these funds so states can get down to the business of moving transportation projects forward and putting our friends and neighbors back to work,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
President Obama has vowed to veto any bill that comes to his desk with earmarks and would support legislation to permanently ban earmarks.
Earmarks, considered a derogatory term, are funds provided by Congress for specific projects or programs. Typically shepherded by a specific member of Congress for his or her constituents, earmarks circumvent the normal congressional appropriations process outlined in the Constitution.
DOT says that $473,371,347.80 of $948,551,792.05 in highway earmarks from FY 2003-06 appropriations acts remains unspent. Those acts allow the Secretary of Transportation to make the unused funds available for eligible surface transportation projects.
The unspent funds involve 671 projects across 49 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico. Wyoming is the only state that never received any of the earmark funds.
Alabama is sitting on more unused funding than any other state, with $51,488,747.50 idling for 33 projects. By far the largest share of that is $14,758,922 that has been untouched since it was earmarked for the East-West Corridor Project.
Kkinder / Wikipedia Commons
|The State of Texas has not tapped any of the $6 million earmarked for work on Interstate 35.|
California has 71 projects affected—the most of any state—and $43,075,444.64 still unobligated. (Three of those projects, it should be noted, have an unspent total of $5.38, including one project with one cent remaining.)
After California, the states with the highest number of projects affected are New York (52), Alabama (33), Illinois (32), and Virginia (32).
Delaware, Guam, Maine, Nevada, Puerto Rico, South Dakota and Vermont each have just one affected project.
After Alabama, the states with the highest amount of unobligated funds are California ($43,075,444.64); Texas ($30,795,362.97); New York ($29,031,287.86); and Pennsylvania ($28,536,041.90). Maine and the District of Columbia each have about $57,000 in unobligated funds; every other state has six- and seven-figure totals.
‘Moving Projects Forward’
Under Friday’s announcement, state departments of transportation will be allowed to use their unspent earmarked highway funds on any eligible highway, transit, passenger rail, or port project.
“Particularly in these difficult fiscal times, states will be able to put these dollars to good use,” said Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez.
“My administration will continue to do everything we can to put Americans back to work,” said Obama. “We’re not going to let politics stand between construction workers and good jobs repairing our roads and bridges.”
“We are freeing up these funds so states can get down to the business of moving transportation projects forward and putting our friends and neighbors back to work,” said LaHood.
A list of available funds by state may be accessed here.