Rod Sutton, Editor in Chief | September 28, 2010

Rod Sutton, Editor in Chief
Rod Sutton, Editor in Chief

Curiouser and curiouser. That's Alice's description of Wonderland, but it also fits a 52-word phrase buried in the Senate's version of the highway reauthorization legislation—the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2004 (SAFETEA). Section 1406, "Purchases of Equipment," requires states to purchase equipment only after "completing and providing a written analysis demonstrating the cost savings...compared with renting the equipment from a qualified rental provider...."

In English, the Senate bill requires states to rent equipment that will be used on federally funded highway work unless they can prove that a purchase would be more cost-effective. That may be senators' attempt at "Accountable," but it reeks of federal interference.

Language like this often comes from a political or partisan angle. We see the political maneuvering, but lobbyists and political action committees have become stealth partisans in government legislation, muddying the public's ability to track, evaluate and discern formation of public policy. In this case, the language tilts the balance of the marketplace in favor of "qualified rental providers."

More ominously, though, this exemplifies the deepening entrenchment of government bureaucrats who seem to believe that only they can heal the ills of society. On the surface, these provisions put accountability and common sense into decision-making processes. But scratch them, and they reveal unnecessary burdens put upon, in this case, state Departments of Transportation. Section 1406's call for written justification will create a new bureaucracy to review and file the paperwork, forcing DOTs to build more time and man-hours into the process of machine procurement, with no additional resources to fund the process. We mustn't forget the true source of the funding for this monkey business: we the taxpayers.

SAFETEA is playing games with highway funding. The House and Administration proposals don't mention equipment acquisition, nor should they. As we continue to wait for legislation, we now have one more "minor" detail to be worked out before passage. It's time for Washington to stop playing "please the PACs" and focus on what's best for the users of our transportation systems.

Author Information
Rod Sutton, Editor in Chief, 630-288-8130,