EDITORIAL: Political misstep

By NEMS Daily Journal

Almost everyone appreciates a public official acting on principle, but if the objection impedes unrelated work of government, questioning its effectiveness is fair and justified.
Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., objected Feb. 25 to passage of a funding extension for unemployment benefit coverage nationwide (a $10 billion expense) without cutting spending someplace else to pay for it. In the process, Bunning’s objection stopped the process of federal highway funding from the Highway Trust Fund and the Federal Highway Administration, halting projects in every state, including Mississippi.
At least $10 million in funds for projects involving the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi have been delayed, including the planning in Washington. The projects – a resurfacing effort between Kosciusko and Ridgeland, and trail work near Ridgeland and Madison – cannot go forward until funding is approved. Another project, in extreme southern Tennessee, for repaving touring roads and parking in Shiloh National Military Park, also has been delayed. The park is a popular day trip destination for Northeast Mississippi families.
The main issue in the bill, extended benefits for about 400,000 unemployed Americans, also stopped with the objection when authorizations expired at midnight Sunday.
State highway officials across the nation justifiably criticized the delay, led by Mississippi Department of Transportation executive Larry “Butch” Brown, president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), in Washington on Monday.
“If you do the math, we’re talking about more than $153 million a day in lost reimbursement payments for highway projects to the states,” said Brown, “Congress has to move quickly to correct this by passing legislation and getting it signed into law. This is a bad situation and it’s only going to get worse.”
On Sunday, the immediate past extension of the surface transportation program expired, leading to a shutdown in reimbursements to states for highway projects and transit programs administered by the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). According to FHWA, the shutdown means that $768 million in highway outlays and $157 million in transit outlays will be delayed for the week ending March 5. Today, an estimated 4,000 federal highway transit and safety personnel must be furloughed, putting a halt to federal project approvals.
Arizona Republican Sen. John Kyl says the impasse on unemployment benefits will be broken; we hope he is right and that a reversal of Bunning’s block comes soon – perhaps today.
Objecting in principle needs to make the principle the dominant point of discussion. Bunning’s objection drove attention away from his point in causing punitive consequences for projects already funded and/or in process.