Commentary: Should trail development be funded by the federal government?

Commentary
By Russ Phillips

Congress recently returned to Washington and is faced with several critical issues in the coming weeks, among them a Highway Transportation bill.

The Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) uses 2 percent of the federal Highway Account for trail development and other non-highway purposes. For FY 2015 this is $820 million.

Some may consider this an insignificant amount when total federal expenditures are considered. However, it is this thinking that has led to our federal government having an $18.3 trillion national debt. Just like a home budget, priorities must be established.

Trail development should be solely funded by state and local tax dollars, if at all. These levels of government are more accountable and more easily influenced by the citizenry than the national level.

Rails-to-Trails (RtoT), the leading advocate for trails in the nation, has 160,000 members and supporters and is aggressively lobbying for the continuation of the TAP. Forty-four percent of rail-trails in the U.S. have been built with federal support and more than 8,000 miles of former rail corridors “are waiting to be turned into great trails,” according to RtoT. In June a bill was introduced in the House that would have eliminated TAP. RtoT notes, “More than 12,000 supporters emailed your representatives and senators to oppose their bill—within 36 hours of our alert.” In July a Senate amendment was introduced to eliminate the TAP. You can be sure that this advocacy group is being heard on this matter. If you do not support TAP have you let your Senators and Representative know? RtoT has even stated, “…senators seeking to eliminate the program lack a constituency.” Really? I suspect that there are many, given the condition of highways, bridges and other infrastructure, that feel the federal gas tax should not be used for trail development. It is time for them to be heard.

Rail-to-Trails, also referred to as Rails to Trails Conservancy (RTC), is a client of two registered lobbyists in Washington, D.C.

What else is Rails-to-Trails saying?
…”Senate Bill Inadequately Funds Walking, Biking, but Provides Innovative Financing Options” (6/23/15)
…”Senate Passes ‘So-So’ Federal Transportation Bill. What’s Next for Trails?” (8/4/15)
…”Congress on Trails: Next Steps for Transportation Legislation” (9/17/15)

Do your Senators and Representative know your opinion on this matter? Are you part of Rails-to-Trails 160,000 members and supporters or do you feel differently about federal gas tax funds being used regarding trails?

What you need to know about state and federal gas taxes

The main source of transportation funding — federal and state gas taxes — has not kept up with the need IndyStar.com By Maureen Groppe, Star Washington Bureau 9/7/15 WASHINGTON – Federal and state policymakers haven’t figured out how to deal … Continue reading

Transportation funding at a crossroads in Indiana, U.S.

The state is not collecting enough in gasoline taxes to adequately maintain its roads and bridges IndyStar.com By Maureen Groppe, Star Washington Bureau 9/7/15 WASHINGTON – Are you willing to spend $6.62 more a month in federal gasoline taxes to … Continue reading

My Question for the Republican Presidential Debate

The New York Times By Thomas L. Friedman, Op-Ed Columnist 8/5/15 If I got to ask one question of the presidential aspirants at Thursday’s Fox Republican debate, it would be this: “As part of a 1982 transportation bill, President Ronald Reagan … Continue reading

Time is running out on federal highway funding

The Washington Post
By Ashley Halsey III
5/7/15

With Congress on the brink of another failure at the end of this month, the usual bickering over who is to blame for not passing a promised long-term transportation bill was in full bloom Thursday on Capitol Hill.

“Our friends on the other side of the aisle haven’t issued a peep about what to do about it,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, flanked by four Democratic colleagues at an afternoon news conference. “Please tell us how you intend to avoid a highway shutdown.”

The only plausible answer appears to be extending the current extension, which expires May 31.

Another extension would be the 33rd time in six years that Congress has faltered when faced with the need for a new transportation authorization measure…
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Gov. Pence wants a $56 million bicentennial “party” and the roadways…

By Russ Phillips

In my opinion the roads – cities and towns, counties, Indiana highways and Indiana interstates – are not receiving adequate road maintenance including sealing and resurfacing as needed as well as prompt filling of potholes and this has been true for a number of years. Some will cite Indiana’s most recent winter as causing the problem and it certainly has made things worse, however, years of neglect has led us to the current roadway conditions. Indiana’s state government as well as the federal government have shirked their responsibility in establishing a long-range program for adequately maintaining our roads. Instead only enough is being done to get by, if even that.

It’s a matter of priorities. Governor Pence’s proposed state budget, in acknowledgement of Indiana’s bicentennial birthday, calls for the construction of a new state archives building ($25 million), the construction of a Bicentennial Inn at Potato Creek State Park ($25 million), the creation of an education center at the Indiana State Library ($2.5 million), the development of a commemorative Bicentennial Plaza ($2 million), and the funding of the Bicentennial torch relay initiative ($1.6 million). Where will the funding come from?

According to Pence the state’s cell tower infrastructure is currently being underutilized and “is not realizing its full commercial potential.” The state — which owns 150 cell towers — is looking to lease the excess capacity to private operators, producing at least $50 million, while still maintaining its critical public safety and emergency communication. State police communication is at the core of those needs. This would pay most of the cost of these projects. There is also a possibility of the new inn being privately financed as a business venture and this I would support.

It is my opinion that the above $56.1 million should be applied to road maintenance. What do you think? Other ideas?

Some of this article is from one or more of:
WNDU.com
WBAA, Public Radio from Purdue
South Bend Tribune
The Statehouse File

President’s 2016 Budget in Pictures

National Priorities Project
By Jasmine Tucker
2/9/15

President Obama recently released his fiscal year 2016 budget proposal. Budgets are about our nation’s priorities: What are we going to spend money on? How are we going to raise the money we want to spend?

Though the budget ultimately enacted by Congress may look very different from the budget request released by the president, the president’s budget is important. It’s the president’s vision for the country in fiscal year 2016 and beyond, and it reflects input and spending requests from every federal agency.

These pictures tell the story of the priorities found in the president’s budget.


President’s Proposed 2016 Budget: Total Spending

This chart shows how President Obama proposed allocating $4.1 trillion* in total federal spending in fiscal year 2016, an increase of more than 5 percent over the total 2015 spending level. This includes every type of federal spending, from funding for discretionary programs like infrastructure improvements and job training to mandatory spending programs like Social Security and Medicare, as well as interest payments on the federal debt. Social Security and labor, Medicare and health programs, and military spending will make up 76 percent of the total budget, leaving just 24 percent, or $957 billion of the $4.1 trillion total, to spend on all other programs.

* Spending on Government (administration) is less than zero and omitted in the total spending pie chart. Lower than zero spending can occur when segments of government have surpluses from previous years that they return to the federal government.

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