Plank Road Rebuild Funding Earns Earmark Top-10 List Status

A local tax watchdog group called the Freedom Fund of Minnesota cherry picked what they consider to be the most wasteful uses of government earmarks to create a list that can be found here (via MDE).

Based on what didn’t make their top-10 list, it seems like programs designed to help battered women, victims of torture, or programs to help reduce criminal recidivism rates are not the worst uses of taxpayer dollars. They do mention that not making the list is not an implied endorsement. It just implies that they’re not as big of deals as the ones they’re worked up about.

So, what gets them worked up? The West Mississippi River Road plank road project outside the Mill City Museum. This is the #3 largest piece of wast in MFF’s book:

#3: Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board
Grand Rounds Scenic Byway plank road replacement–The city can’t keep up with filling all the fresh potholes in Minneapolis, but wants to use your tax dollars to pave a street with wood.

Pave a street with wood? Who’d do that? Well, actually, that was done. This project, as I understand it, is to undo what was done (unsuccessfully), so the opposite of what the Minnesota Freedom Foundation suggests. They plan to switch the road from a wood surface to concrete to make it safer and more durable.

Here’s a picture of the offending site from just after the road was closed this past October:

Closed Plank Road

Which is how the site looks today as well. The road is closed because the road was hosed. Money has been secured to get it reopened and make it safer. Here is how the project is described on Keith Ellison’s site:

Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway Plank Road Replacement, Minneapolis, MN
Transportation, HUD

Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board
2117 West River Road North
Minneapolis, MN 55411

REQUEST: $500,000

Funds will be used to refurbish, Plank Road, a wooden road surface located in the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Zone in downtown Minneapolis, is part of West River Parkway and the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway system. The project will enhance the ability to drive on the Scenic Byway and allow travelers access safely to and through the historic downtown Byway district.

Since MN’s Reps from the congressional districts surrounding Minneapolis (Bachmann, Kline, and Paulson) have sworn off earmarks, the taxpayers in their district get to see a portion of their federal tax dollars going toward funding projects like this. These same Representatives voted in favor of rebuilding the 35W bridge after it collapsed (the Senate and US House both voted unanimously to appropriate $250m in emergency funding), so they seem to understand that roads are more considerably more valuable when they’re complete. While they didn’t get a chance to vote directly for this project, it would be interesting to see if the same logic would apply in this case.

To me, this seems like a strange choice by the Minnesota Freedom Foundation to include on their bad earmarks list. Perhaps it made the list because they think the money goes toward the opposite of what it really does? Or, perhaps they didn’t want to suggest that helping battered women, victims of torture, or crime prevention are bad investments by adding those earmarks to their list?

8 thoughts on “Plank Road Rebuild Funding Earns Earmark Top-10 List Status”

  1. I don’t see why citizens from other states should help pay to fix a road in Minneapolis that was hosed by the Minneapolis Park Board.

  2. I don’t see why any of my tax dollars should go towards anything I don’t personally approve of.

  3. The street needs to be fixed. Taxpayer dollars are the source for street fixes. In this instance, the earmark taps federal funds instead of state or local revenues.

    The “citizens from other states” argument doesnt make sense to me because I suspect it is far more likely that Minnesota pays more into federal tax coffers than we get back. Does anyone have some data to validate this or disprove my assumption?

  4. Matt, here is some 2005 data from The Tax Foundation that supports your point. At that time, Minnesota received back 72 cents for every dollar we sent to Washington while “we hate the government” states like Alaska, Alabama, and Mississippi receive as much as two dollars back for every one dollar they send in.

  5. Matt is correct that the road should be fixed. Minneapolis (my city) should be the one to fix it. Since when did we because such a welfare case that we can’t pay for our local street repair.

    Someday the federal government might run out of money, I hope we know how to pay for our own roads by then.

  6. Dan, I think Matt’s point, together with the data I provided, is that Minnesota isn’t being a welfare state when we request money for infratructure since we’re currently getting back far less than we put in. If a case is going to be made for state level welfare behavior, you could start by going after the welfare queen red states outlined in the report I linked to.

  7. @Ed, That’s my point exactly.

    Asking the federal government to fund this road with federal “earmarks” is actually a means of reclaiming Minnesota tax dollars that might otherwise be spent by other states.

  8. I’d rather this road be left as is – not repaired. The park area to the south of the damaged road could be improved and expanded if the road weren’t repaired. Instead spend the $500K on removing what is left of the (now closed) road, and provide access to the condo’s parking garage.

    Car traffic has other options in the area. That’s just my take, your mileage may vary.

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