The Democrats in Congress speak broadly when they refer to S. 238, the Build America Bonds Act. They speak of infrastructure and transportation, but what kind of infrastructure, and what kind of transportation wouth the Build America Bonds Act support? It’s worth looking at in some detail, because the legislation would spend 50 billion dollars.
The legislation refers to the creation of 50 billion dollars in bonds to fund work on “roads, bridges, rail and transit systems, ports, and inland waterways”. But, how much money would go to each form of transportation?
That’s an important question, given the need to shift the model of transportation in the United States to become more sustainable, environmentally and economically. Rail and other mass transit systems would count as more sustainable. Roads, however, certainly would not.
I read through the entire text of S. 238, looking for this information, assuming that the Build America Bonds Act would include mandates of certain amounts of funding to certain modes of transportation. Sadly, I reached the end of the bill without finding any such direction. It seems that the Build America Bonds Act merely creates a pool of 50 billion dollars of money, which states can then apply to use. It could very well happen that all 50 billion dollars would be used on projects to repair highways, perpetuating the use of automobiles burning fossil fuels. It could happen that not a single cent would be spent upon rail or other systems of mass transportation. The Transportation Finance Corporation set up by the bill could easily become yet another government board that does favors for people with friends in high places.
Less than two hours ago, Barack Obama promised in his inaugural address that there would be accountability in government spending. S. 238 presents a test of that promise. The Build America Bonds Act has no accountability, because it doesn’t have standards that would move America toward greater transportation efficiency. If the Build America Bonds Act passes and is signed by President Obama, it will be a sign that accountability will be selective, applying only to those projects proposed by people who lack insider connections.
Given the lack of direction in the Build America Bonds Act, this transportation bill ought to end up going nowhere.