"States rights", block grants, and community development and transportation
The reason that you need federal policies, rules, and regulations for how transportation or community development monies are to be used at the local level is because states, depending on their needs and agendas, may decide to spend the money on something else.
With regard to transportation, upwards of 15% of all trips nationally are made by walking or biking. While the national percentage of transit trips is low, about 5%, in center cities this percentage can be much higher--in DC, the number is between 30% and 40%, while in New York City the number is even higher.
So you can argue that transportation monies should be spent, depending on the state, upwards of 15% to 30% on walking, biking, and transit.
Of course that's not how it is, most of the money is spent on roads. Nationally, 1.5% of transportation funds are spent on walking and biking infrastructure (called the "Community Transportation Enhancement Program").
So biking and walking advocates are seriously concerned about provions in the proposed re-authorization of the federal transportation bill to strip out basic requirements to spend a certain percentage of federal transportation monies allocated to the states on walking and biking. See "House Transportation Negotiators: Cut Funds for Biking and Walking, Then We’ll Talk" from Daily Kos.
Similarly, transit advocates--supported even by Republican lawmakers from transit cities--are fighting reductions in funding for transit infrastructure. See "House raid on gas-tax fund would devastate mass transit on Staten Island" from the Staten Island Advance.
Anyway, the example of why states should not be given leeway on walking, biking, and transit funding that they claim that they will use responsibility comes to us from Louisiana, where Republican superstar Governor Bobby Jindal has redirected federal funds provided to the State of Louisiana for mitigating the destruction of property and economic activity as a result of Hurricane Katrina, to the funding of 1/2 of one years worth of pre-K education throughout the state. See the Associated Press story "Hurricane recovery money to fund pre-kindergarten."
Of course, this is an example of the misuse of funds for local economic and community development matters too, and an illustration of why funds appropriated to "community development" often don't have the impact that people expected.
(Also see "County officials fight to keep transit funds loophole" from the Ventura County (CA) Star. In California, counties over 500,000 in population receive a portion of sales taxes that are supposed to be used to fund local transit services. Ventura County got an exemption, and so they don't spend the money on transit, but on roads. Since local redevelopment agencies have been dissolved, and these agencies had paid for a wide variety of local government positions and services, the County wants to maintain their authority to use this money for non-transit services.)
Labels: community development, electoral politics and influence, federal policies and the city, federal spending, government oversight, government spending, legislative process, states rights, transportation planning