Friday, June 15, 2012

Wyoming Legislators Want The Road Repair Purse Strings Back

Recognizing that dramatically reduced federal funding of highway construction will mean there isn’t enough cash to pay for all of the state’s planned road repair and construction projects, Wyoming legislators are moving ahead with drafting of legislative proposals to take away the authority of the state’s appointed Transportation Commission for setting prioroties among the highway projects competing for scarce resources. Legislators expect to be asked to increase Wyoming motor fuel taxes, and if they do, they want more specific control of where in their state the money gets spent.

Despite warnings from some Senators about unintended consequences of legislative intervention in scarce resource allocation, the Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Interim Committee voted Wednesday to proceed with revision of the priority setting authority of the non-partisan Transportation Commission. In blatant recognition that a major pillar of political power in their districts is the ability to allocate funds to local projects, legislators’ votes overlooked warnings stemming from legislative interference earlier this year with project priorities set by the state’s School Facilities Commission.

Describing school construction priority setting this spring as a “fiasco,” Sheridan Senator Jonathan Botten said, “We had to compromise and we ended up spending a whole lot more money than what was originally intended.” The other side of the intra-government power struggle is reflected by Thermopolis Representative Lorraine Quarterberg’s remark that if the fuel tax is increased, residents and elected officials have a right to be more involved in deciding where the money is going.

Apparently Wyoming legislators have forgotten that politicization of spending decisions was the reason the Transportation Commission and School Facilities Commission were set up in the first place.

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