Sep 15 2011
Mr. COBURN. Madam President, I would like to spend a few minutes discussing some things in general.
In making a couple points today, I was referred to by one of our colleagues as a dictator. I am not offended at that; I understand the frustration of what is going on. But I think there are some significant points that the American people ought to hear about where we are and what we are doing.
Quite frankly, if we look at our financial situation and we look at the history of the world, no country has ever recovered from the situation in which we find ourselves in terms of our debt-to-GDP ratio and our debt-to-export ratio.
In August, before we left, we passed a piece of legislation that goes--a small amount--toward fixing the very real problems that are in front of our country in terms of spending money we don't have on things we don't absolutely need. But we have before us, and coming before us, two different pieces of legislation: One is a shell piece of legislation, and the assumption is the majority leader will utilize it to fund supplementation for disaster relief for the many areas in our country that need that funding. There is not a dispute that we should be doing that. There is a dispute about how much that should be. But the greatest dispute is, when we are running $1.3 trillion and $1.4 trillion deficits, and we know we have significant waste, duplication, and fraud in the Federal Government, whether we ought to spend another $6 billion or $7 billion by borrowing or we ought to actually reduce spending somewhere else to pay for a much more important and proper need in which the Federal Government has a role. That is the real debate.
I think we have worked a way to have appropriate amendments to try to pay for that, and we should probably go forward. There are, however, two other programs that are precarious in their funding: One is FAA--and we have coming to us the 22nd temporary reauthorization--and the Transportation bill, which is, I believe, its sixth temporary reauthorization.
Now, there are some real questions the American people ought to be asking about why 22 times we have temporarily reauthorized the FAA for a short period of time, and why now we are on our sixth temporary--or fifth; I may be wrong on one of those numbers but close--temporary reauthorization. That is because we are not prioritizing what is important for the country in terms of our legislative agenda. We don't control that, but there are some things that the American people are interested in that we do control.
The highway trust fund has received a supplementation over the last 4 years of $35 billion from the American taxpayer outside of the taxes they collect for that trust fund. Out of that amount of money billions of dollars have been spent on things other than highways and bridges.
We now have 146,000 deficient bridges in our country, some in every State in the country. We have more now after the floods in the Northeast. We have significant problems and we have a limited amount of money, and what is in front of us is another short-term extension of 6 months for the transportation funding which continues to spend money on items that are a low priority.
I am not saying we couldn't spend the money on it. But when we are short of money, and we are borrowing money to put money into the trust fund, and our No. 1 priority ought to be safety and quality roads and bridges, to spend significant funds on things that are not a priority now--not when we are head over heels in debt, not when the trust fund is precarious--then we ought to not force States to spend money they don't want to spend. Yet in this bill 10 percent of the surface transportation moneys have to be spent on enhancement.
So that tells Oklahoma, or any other State: If you have an excess number of bridges, it doesn't matter that that is a safety problem for your citizens; we are still going to make you spend this 10 percent money over here that doesn't have anything to do with safety or true transportation, but we are going to require it because we can--except, the problem is, the people in your State pay the taxes in the first place for their highways and their bridges, not for the museums, not for all the hundreds of other things that are spent that are low priority.
So I thought I might give us a little flavor of what some of those things are. If we were at a different time where we had an excess of funds, I am not saying they are necessarily bad. But when we have bridges falling down in this country, and concrete--like the summer before last in Oklahoma--falling out of an interstate highway bridge injuring somebody, falling onto their car as they drove under it, I would think that we would want to repair these 146,000 bridges rather than spend money redecorating a sign.
So I will not go through all of them--I will put all of them into the Record--but let me go through a few of them just to see. If the American people actually believe we should not fix bridges or roads and we ought to spend money, I am fine. If the Senate believes we ought to not fix bridges, we ought not concentrate on safety, we ought not concentrate on the quality of our roads and bridges and they vote it down, I am fine too. But the fact is, we ought not to be spending money when we have the hundreds of thousands of bridges that are dangerous to people in this country.
All we are saying is, if a State wants to continue to spend money on something other than safety and bridges and roads, fine, it can, but don't make those of us who already have a big problem with safety have to spend money on something that doesn't protect our citizens, doesn't enhance their highways by spending money on something that is called an enhancement but doesn't enhance their safety or their ability to commute.
So what are some of them? Lincoln Highway 200-Mile Roadside Museum in Pennsylvania--it received $300,000 in enhancement funding to commemorate the historic highway along the 200-mile route. Interpretive signage, colorful, repainted vintage gas pumps, engaging murals, refurbishing a large coffee pot.
Notably, Pennsylvania ranks No. 1 in the country in terms of bridge deficiency levels. Forty-six percent of the bridges in Pennsylvania are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
Mr. President, $300,000 would have fixed two of them. So we chose to not fix two but spend the money elsewhere. At a different time, sure, or if Pennsylvania wants to spend it, let them. But don't force them to spend money on something that does not protect the quality of transportation for their citizens.
How about Chinatown Gateway, a $250,000 enhancement to supplement the construction of the Twin Dragons Gateway to the Chinatown area? California has over 7,000 bridges that are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. One out of every three bridges in California is in trouble, and we are doing aesthetics instead of fixing bridges.
How about the White Squirrel Sanctuary in Tennessee? Kenton, TN, located in Gibson County, calls itself ``the Home of the White Squirrel.'' They received $110,000 in transportation enhancement funding to construct a white squirrel sanctuary with walking trails, brick crosswalks, a footbridge, and a parking lot. There are 3,856 bridges that are structurally deficient in the State of Tennessee. They didn't necessarily want to do this. They did not have any choice. They had to spend 10 percent of their surface transportation money on things such as this.
Tuscumbia Landing in Sheffield, AL--$104,000 to investigate Tuscumbia Landing's archaeological features. The only problem is, 23 percent of Alabama's bridges are structurally deficient. That could have fixed two of them.
How about the National Corvette Museum Simulator Theater in Warren County, KY--$200,000 to build a grand simulator theater. Mr. President, 31 percent of the bridges they cross in Kentucky are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
The Pennsylvania Trolley Museum--$400,000 to construct the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum. It is a great idea if we are in the black and have a good cashflow. But when Pennsylvania leads the Nation in deficient bridges and dangerous bridges, why would we spend that money? Why would we force them to spend that money?
I can go on. I will add to the record many other examples, all the way up to 40 separate examples of where we are spending money but we are not fixing bridges.
I ask unanimous consent that those examples be printed in the Record at the conclusion of my remarks.
(See exhibit 1.)
We are not pouring asphalt, we are not laying concrete, we are not decreasing congestion, and we are not increasing safety. What we are doing is we are following the rules of Washington when we have greater needs. We are in trouble as a nation because Congress does not set priorities, and when they do set priorities, there is no connection to the reality of our financial situation.
We have some options on how to go forward. One of the options would be to take the FAA bill, split it out, approve it, send it back to the House, and FAA is taken care of. The second option would be to pass the highway extension for 6 months with the elimination of enhancements and send it back to the House. But I will not give a unanimous consent, as is my right as a Senator of the United States, for us to continue to spend billions of dollars on things that are not a priority when the country is struggling to survive. Its very survival depends on us changing the way we do business. If that means the highway transportation bill does not get approved, so be it. But there has to be a point in time in this country when we change direction and we start meeting the obligations that are put before us.
The No. 1 obligation is to start spending money where it does the most good and quit spending money we do not have on things we do not absolutely need. With a 35-percent deficit--and we are going to run another $1.3 trillion deficit next year, which will cost a significant amount of funds for our kids and our grandkids just to repay what we are going to waste next year--there ought to be a time at which we say enough is enough.
I know there will be several, including my own senior Senator, who will be unhappy with my position, but I believe it is time to draw a line in the sand for the American people, for our future. It is not popular. It is certainly not expedient. But it is absolutely the right thing to do.
If the Senate wants to solve the problem of these two bills, we can split them or we can keep them together, but we need to end the enhancements right now until we get the highway trust fund healthy again, No. 1, and, No. 2, until we get our country healthy again. When we do, I will be happy to defer.
Remember, we are not saying you cannot do it. We are just saying you ought to have the option to not do it.
Kalanianaole Highway, Ka'lwi Scenic Shoreline Trail--Federal Transportation enhancement funds were used to intervene in a local land use dispute in Hawaii. A decades long dispute over the preservation of Hawaiian shoreline versus local developmental interests was assisted by the Department of Transportation, which used $11 million in enhancement funds to acquire land for conservation purposes, effectively meddling in the local land use. In the mean time, 45 percent of Hawaii's bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
Antique bike collections--The University of California Davis received a transportation enhancement grant of $440,000 to purchase 60 unique antique bikes for its Bicycle Museum Collection.
Shrine to Tennessee state history costs federal government $23 million-- Nashville, Tennessee received $23 million in federal enhancement funding to construct its bicentennial ode to Tennessee state history. The project included the building of ``a 1,400-foot Wall of History etched with historic events from the state's first two centuries, 31 fountains that each represent one of the state's rivers, and a 200-foot granite state map.'' The only thing more egregious than federal funds used for a clearly state interest, is that 20 percent of Tennessee Bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
ARTwalk--ARTwalk is tagged as a unique outdoor experience that constructs pathways between shopping areas, galleries, and museums in Rochester, Vermont. The project used $234,000 in federal enhancement dollars to build the artsy outdoor museum, while 861 of Vermont's bridges remain either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
Old Roman Bath House Renovation--$160,000 worth of enhancement funding was used in Berkeley, West Virginia for the renovation of the oldest building in town, an Old Roman Bath House. While local residents may be interested in visiting a bath house where George Washington used to frequent, federal taxpayers may find the connection to critical infrastructure more puzzling. Moreover, 36 percent of West Virginia's bridges remain structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
Saddletree Factory Renovation--The Ben Schroeder Saddle Tree Factory, a historical factory in Madison, Indiana, received transportation enhancement funding for historical preservation purposes because the factory used to make Saddletrees, the foundation of a saddle. 21.5 percent of Indiana's bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
Toledo Harbor Lighthouse--The Toledo Harbor Lighthouse in Toledo, Ohio, protected by the ``phantom'' officer Frank, will receive a $500,000 enhancement grant to restore windows, doors, bricks, and shutters. This grant will not only help to restore the facade of the historical lighthouse, but also carry on the legendary ghosts of the haunted lighthouse. Unfortunately, ``phantom'' officer Frank will not be able to protect Ohio drivers from the 6,598 bridges that are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
Critter Crossing--The Monkton, Vermont Conservation Commission received $150,000 in federal grant money to build a--critter crossing, to save the lives of thousands of migrating salamanders and other amphibians that would otherwise be slaughtered by vehicle traffic on a major roadway. Thousands of blue- and yellow-spotted salamanders, frogs, and other amphibians spend the winter months in the rocky uplands near Monkton, but must return to low-lying wetlands in order to reproduce. To travel between these two areas, the salamanders must cross the heavily-traveled Monkton-Vergennes Road. While some conservationists have celebrated the project, others remain skeptical. ``I certainly respect all species. However, I don't see the need to pay $150,000 for a salamander crossing'', read one email reportedly sent to the Burlington [Vermont] Free Press newspaper. ``I realize there are a lot of other stupid things my tax dollars go toward, but this one is near the top of the list.'' Maybe the local communities will prevent the critters from crossing one of the 861 bridges that are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
North Carolina Transportation Museum Spencer, North Carolina--The North Carolina Transportation Museum has received over 11 million to renovate and showcase steam locomotive artifacts. As of 2010, North Carolina has nearly 5000 bridges that are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
Massachusetts bike and pedestrian allotted millions, but remain unspent--Massachusetts has received $135 million in federal funds for bike and pedestrian projects since 1991, of which it has spent little more than $51 million, according to The Boston Globe. That means nearly two-thirds of the funds provided in the last two decades by Congress to the state for such projects remain unspent. Perhaps Massachusetts would like to use their unspent funds to work on their 2,548 bridges that are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
Nevada spending millions of federal transportation dollars to make Vegas highways beautiful--In 2008, Nevada received its transportation enhancement allotment of $6,287,466. They decided to spend it in a variety of ways, a few million went to biking facilities and trails, a few million went to welcome centers and interpretive centers. $498,750 even went for ``decorative rocks, native plants, some pavement graphics, a few walls, and some great big granite boulders'' to beautify an interchange to Las Vegas' 215 Beltway.
A couple miles down the highway, N-DOT beautified another interchange with ``striping in the rocks and some native plants.'' That project has cost $319,163 so far this year.
The people of Nevada might have been able to think of some better things to spend that money on. One local who uses the interchange frequently was not impressed by the expensive beautification project. ``I'm busy watching where I'm going. I'm not looking at landscape improvements and stamped concrete.''
Unfortunately, there is little that local officials can do to re-direct the money to better uses. ``We applied for the federal enhancement dollars and those federal enhancement dollars can only be used for landscaping and pedestrian type improvements,'' explains the top civil engineer at the Clark County Public Works Traffic Management Division.
The N-DOT deputy director for southern Nevada is just as frustrated as many citizens that federal restrictions prohibit states from directing money where it is really needed. ``It's really getting out of hand to where these pots of money have these constraints associated with them and you can't spend money where you want to.'' These restrictions sometimes leave states no choice but to spend money on frivolous projects or lose it entirely. The deputy director notes, ``if N-DOT doesn't spend that money and employ workers in Nevada, another state is gonna have that money up for grabs.''
Washington, DC receives Transportation Enhancement grants for murals and valet bikes--Washington, DC received nearly $2 million in transportation enhancement grants in Fiscal Year 2010, ranging from $50,000 to $579,000. These grants include items such as the stabilization of historic murals and a grant for bicycle parking and valet services, along with the creation of a ``Room to Breathe'' poster. The $2 million allotment would be much better used for bridge repair, as 158 of the 244 bridges in the District are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
Railroad Caboose Relocation and Renovation--The Princeton Railroad Museum received a $78,280 transportation enhancement grant to help pay for the relocation of a historic train caboose to be displayed and restored.
Texas Highway Rest Stops--The Texas Department of Transportation uses a substantial amount of their required transportation enhancement spending to build highway rest areas. Texas plans to spend $262 million to build or overhaul roadside stops along its highways, with a majority of the funds coming from enhancement grants. However, some residents question the construction of rest stops in such close proximity to other commercial areas, leading one local resident to surmise about the $10 million Salado rest area, ``I think $10 million would have made a nice third lane in a lot of spots ..... It's pretty spectacular for a rest area, for, I guess, $2 million worth ..... $10 million? That's a lot of money.'' Additionally, the Texas Department of Transportation spent $16.2 million in enhancement funding on a Battleship Texas restoration project.
California Sculpture Competition--Federal transportation enhancement dollars were used as prize money for an art competition to find a sculpture fitting to place in a parking lot for a Laguna Beach, California Friday Film Series event.
Merchant and Drovers Tavern Museum--The Merchants and Drovers Tavern Museum in Union County, New Jersey received a $210,790 transportation enhancement grant to create a museum on the second floor of the recently renovated building. The Merchants and Drovers Tavern Museum touts its amenities by letting visitors ``experience the hospitality of the 1820s'' and ``quench his thirst in the taproom, sit for a while in the parlor or, perhaps, try a bed for size at this `hands-on' museum.'' Meanwhile, visitors should also be wary of driving over any New Jersey bridges on the way to the museum, as 35 percent of them are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
Museum uses transportation funds for its Heating and Air Conditioning system--The Sayre Historical Society Museum in Bradford County, Pennsylvania received a transportation enhancement grant of $74,704 for the ``Sayre Historical Society RR Museum Heating and AC project.'' You read that correctly, American gas taxes are being directed towards heating and air installation.
War of 1812, Bladensburg, Maryland excavation--Enhancement funding was used to excavate several historical buildings in Bladensburg, Maryland to study the ``transportation history'' of the area. Bladensburg was used for troop movements during the War of 1812, as well as being a transportation hub during early America.
Funding for a Transportation Exhibit--$300,000 in federal money will pay for a new exhibit on the history of transportation at a local museum in Missouri. The fresh display at the St. Charles County Heritage museum will explain the influence of rivers, railroads, roads, and trails in the region over the years. The grant application highlights how ``The County and its residents have had to rely on multiple forms of transportation and as technology changed, the area had to adapt to the changing transportation methods/patterns.''
Not everyone in the community agrees the federal government should fund this type of project. A county executive said, ``It's the kind of thing the federal government can't afford to do.'' Other officials however have a different perspective on the federal funding. The county parks director explained how ``the $300,000 grant is `a pretty insignificant amount of money compared to that total pool' of federal transportation spending.'' Maybe a more significant number should be 7,021, the number of Missouri bridges that are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
Iowa town receives new entrance sign--Fairfield, Iowa used $40,800 in transportation enhancement funds to upgrade its ``Welcome to Fairfield'' sign. It is likely that Iowans would welcome their transportation funds upgrading their bridges, as Iowa ranks 3rd in bridge deficiency rates in America.
Michigan Receives Transportation funds to plant flowers and rehabilitate an engine house--In 2010, the Michigan awarded $5 million in federal transportation enhancement grants to various projects including reconstructing cobblestone roads, purchasing and installing bicycle racks, and ``streetscaping'' a downtown street in Bridgetown, Michigan with ``decorative sidewalk treatments, street trees, perennial flowers and other decorative plantings, planters, and ornamental street lighting.'' One grant awarded $336,490 to rehabilitate the historic Quincy and Torch Lake Railroad Engine House while another grant awarded $1,490,280 to the Detroit Science Center to construct an exhibit depicting ``how roads, tunnels and bridges are constructed.''
Transportation Funding used to replace unaesthetic fencing around Oklahoma Capitol Oil Derricks--The Oklahoma Department of Central Services, the controller of Capitol Grounds, received $216,000 in transportation enhancement funding to replace fencing around active oil wells on Lincoln Boulevard with a more aesthetically pleasing form of fencing. Unfortunately while Capitol Complex may look better, Oklahoma bridge deficiency rates remain 2nd in the United States.
Over $150,000 in Gasoline Taxes directed towards making brochures--Over the last 10 years, federal transportation enhancement grants have been used to produce brochures for various purposes including monuments paths, scenic trails, and bicycle safety. The State of Kansas even received a federal grant to install and replace their brochure display cases at SRA.
Enhancement funds used to help construct replica of historical schooner--In 2001, Burlington, Vermont received a $20,000 grant to subsidize the building a full scale replica of the 1862-class sailing canal boat, the Louis McClure.
Crandall Farm Restoration project--Washington County, Rhode Island received a $120,000 transportation enhancement grant for renovation of Crandall Farm. The project consisted of renovating the 1870 house on the farm into a welcome center and educational tool for the traveling public.
South Carolina uses gas taxes to purchase $15,000 ``Welcome Signs''--Orangeburg County, South Carolina received a $34,965 transportation enhancement grant o help purchase three signs at a cost of $44,500, or $14,833 per sign. Unfortunately, South Carolina bridges are not as welcoming, as 22 percent of them are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
The State of Michigan receives nearly $100,000 to celebrate mysterious centennial--In 2004, Michigan received a $99,540 transportation enhancement grant for publications, historical commemorative items, and displays for a ``centennial celebration.'' The only thing more puzzling than how these activities are related to transportation is that the centennial for Michigan Statehood occurred in 1937.
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