President Obama announced that he will give $473 million in unused earmarks to states this fall in order to pay for the infrastructure projects that the current Congress has not chosen to fund.
“My administration will continue to do everything we can to put Americans back to work,” President Obama said in a statement today. “We’re not going to let politics stand between construction workers and good jobs repairing our roads and bridges.”
Obama made the announcement as part of his “We can’t wait” initiative, by which he tries to achieve through executive action policy goals that Congress rejected or chose not to consider. This plan allows state transportation departments to take money that was earmarked for some project in their state, but went unused, and use it to fund other projects. They must identify the projects for which they’ll use the money by October 1.
The president has long argued that the economy remains weak because states have had to lay off employees, and he has often called for Congress to enact infrastructure spending that would expand payrolls.
“The private sector is doing fine,” Obama said in June. “Where we’re seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government — oftentimes, cuts initiated by governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government and who don’t have the same kind of flexibility as the federal government in dealing with fewer revenues coming in. And so, if Republicans want to be helpful, if they really want to move forward and put people back to work, what they should be thinking about is, how do we help state and local governments and how do we help the construction industry.”
The $473 million comes from earmarks that were included in bills from 2003 to 2006, but not actually spent.“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,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in his statement.
The three states with the most unspent earmark money, and thus the most available under this plan, are Alabama ($51 million), California ($43 million), and Tennessee ($30 million). Other notable states include: Pennsylvania ($28 million), Ohio ($12 million), Florida ($11 million), and Virginia ($9 million).