If you thought getting Federal funding for your bike project or program was difficult…wait til you see how complicated it is to give Washington back money that hasn’t been spent! Yes, the Federal government has issued another call for rescissions – the mechanism by which unspent or unobligated transportation funds are sent back to Washington to help fund future rounds of transportation expenditures. This time, the Feds are asking for $8.7 billion, and at first blush it looks as if State Departments of Transportation have relatively little flexibility as to which funds they have to send back to Washington. The memo is an incredible testament to the ways in which a relatively simple concept can be made convoluted and impenetrable, so it was a huge relief to see that there’s a handy table in the memo from the Federal Highway Administration to the states that says how much money they should be sending back from each particular program.
However, as we were discussing the details and implications of the rescission with our colleagues at America Bikes and the Alliance for Biking and Walking, we eventually found the catch and the reason why we needed the Alliance to get the word out to their member groups ASAP. It turns out that the amounts shown in the table are shown irrespective of whether or not those funds have already been spent on a particular program. If a state has indeed obligated or spent all its funds in one program area, it has to make up the amount that needs to be rescinded from other programs where they still have a balance of unspent funds. Lo and behold, even after years of exhorting states to spend their transportation enhancement and congestion mitigation funds up to the maximum allowed, many have dragged their feet and it those funds – the funds most likely to ever be used for bike projects – that are now potentially going to make up the shortfall in funds that have to be sent back to the US Treasury!
~Andy Clarke, League President