President Barack Obama’s administration eliminated $473 million in old transportation earmarks today, telling states to reallocate the money by the end of the year or lose it for good.
Old earmarks for projects that have not yet been built, from fiscal years 2003 to 2006, have been effectively nixed. Appropriations bills for those years contained a provision allowing the secretary of Transportation to make unused funds available for other projects, the administration said.
“My administration will continue to do everything we can to put Americans back to work,” Obama said in a statement. “We’re not going to let politics stand between construction workers and good jobs repairing our roads and bridges.”
“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.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla), a top critic of earmarking, issued a favorable statement to Roll Call.
“This is a good sentiment but Senate Majority Leader Reid [D-Nev.] and Speaker Boehner [R-Ohio] have the authority and responsibility to take this step. It’s also important to take the time to spend this money wisely and not throw money at projects,” Coburn said. “Still, this announcement shows how far the debate has moved toward restraint, which is a victory for the American people.”
Obama has vowed to veto bills with earmarks, but the earmarks in question predate his election.
Under the order, states must identify how they plan to use the money by Oct. 1 and obligate the money by Dec. 31.
States that don’t spend the money in time will lose out; the unspent money in their states will be reallocated to states that do spend the money.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.