Gov Patrick’s “wacky” comment explains a lot

Every once in a while some pol lets slip an apparent throw-away line that on further consideration turns out to say a whole lot.

Read this (from the State House News, via the Boston Herald):

Gov. Deval Patrick is urging federal officials to change a “wacky rule” he says could cost Massachusetts $15 million in transportation funding, and last week he took his case to the nation’s top transportation official.

Patrick told the News Service that he met last Thursday with the Obama administration’s transportation chief, Secretary Ray LaHood, and urged him to support a change in the rules governing the spending of federal stimulus dollars on transportation projects.

Those rules require states to return unspent funds to the federal treasury if construction projects come in under budget, rather than allowing states to retain those funds and spend them on other projects.

Apparently during the mad rush a couple of years ago to turn on the federal spending fire hose and saturate the country with “stimulus,” some blessed, subversive soul managed to sneak into the enabling legislation just a tiny bit of discipline-inducing common sense.  A simple provision requiring that when a project deemed (after some sort of evaluation) worthy of “stimulus” funds manages to come in under budget, the overage goes back into the till.

“Wacky!” proclaims our affronted Governor.


About CriticalDan

  • Do they have to demonstrate they spent the money ON TRANSPORTATION?

    Instead of just hoarding it?  Or ‘borrowing’ it to balance ‘the books’?

    One of my main gripes about stimulus was that most of the money was spent on ARRA signs to slap up on projects that had marinated on the TIP list for ten years – some had already been announced and bid when the ‘stimulus’ money arrived.  And therein lies part of the problem.  Some of the engineering studies, costing, etc. had already been done – years ago – lowering the overall ‘cost’ of the projects.  Gee – I wonder if they ‘revalued’ the cost of the project using ‘current day replacement costs’ as the value of the older completed components, to make the cost of the work done ‘realistic’.

    And now they have to give the money back….heh…

  • edfactor

    He might have meant that such a system gives states no incentive to save any money if they don’t get to keep it.

    The Pentagon has a system for many programs where you can keep half the money you save and then have goes back to the Treasury. That feels like something that should be tried everywhere.

  • CVarley

    Our Governor is an idiot.

  • While our Governor says he’s not a politician, and tries to cast himself as a businessman this quote shows how he’s a true creature of government.

    This is what happens systematically in departments funded with state and federal dollars. The departments know that they are rewarded for spending every single dollar of their budget, and are incentivized to do so by our current budgeting process that calculates the level of funding based upon a cursory review of the amount you spent last years. This usually leads to a spending spree towards the end of the year if your department is coming in under budget. It’s not a phenomena that is unique to Government, but it is pervasive in government. I’ve also seen it in academia as well where the end-of-year spending sprees were openly discussed. I’m also sure it exists in some poorly run businesses; however, I haven’t witnessed it first-hand.

    Now, we have our Governor essentially publicly condoning this behavior. If I’m a manager reading this statement, it’s a justification from the top to keep spending my entire budget. What’s more is that it’s discouraging any potential areas where savings could occur.

    Senator Tarr has been pushing for zero-based budgeting for years now with little success. Sometimes they let it through the Senate, but it never gets passed the house or to the Governor’s desk. However, based upon his statements, apparently the Governor thinks that prudent budgeting, spending and managing are not something that should occur in the public sector.  That’s what’s really “wacky”.