U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said his agency discovered nearly half a billion dollars of previously allocated money. The money was earmarked between 2003 and 2006. For whatever reason, states never spent the money.
“You know I don’t know every reason, but it really doesn’t make any difference,” Secretary LaHood said on a Friday conference call. “The fact is the money was not spent, and in the no-earmark era, we need to spend it. And in an era when unemployment and the construction building trades much higher than other industries, we need to get the money out the door.”
Alaska is slated to receive more than $20 million. It must submit its plan for federal approval by October 1st, then obligate it by the end of the year. The state must select construction-ready-projects and show how the money will be spent. Construction can wait until next year, or at least warmer, brighter weather.
Governor Sean Parnell will accept the money, even though he’s been reluctant to take federal dollars in the past.
The announcement caught the state Department of Transportaion by surprise, said Brenda Hewitt, with the state DOT. Officials there are deciding which projects to fund, and according to Hewitt, that should not be a problem.
“There are so many needs for transportation for Alaska. We have such a huge state and our transportation needs are pretty diverse,” she said.
The move is part of President Barack Obama’s “we can’t wait” approach. The president is sidestepping Congress in hopes of showing would-be voters he’s more proactive than the legislative branch.
The announcement comes just three months before voters take to the polls to elect a president in an election where jobs and unemployment are the major themes.
Politics, Secretary LaHood insisted, had nothing to do with the announcement.