The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is an organization that brings together state legislators and private businesses to conduct and promote free-market, limited-government, state-level legislative proposals and ideas. ProPublica published a “Step-By-Step Guide to Understanding ALEC’s Influence on Your State Laws” in August 2011.
The group recently has come under intense criticism from left-of-center groups for its support of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Past financial supporters like The Gates Foundation, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Blue Cross and several other companies announced they will end their financial support. In response ALEC announced it would refocus on economic issues and drop some of its social and other non-economic issues.
ALEC’s website states it covers “a variety of economic issues of importance to the American people, including job creation and growth, state tax issues and budget solvency, education and healthcare reforms, corrections and reentry programs, civil justice reforms, and sound energy and environmental solutions.”
I was curious about what ALEC had to say about transportation policy. It is, after all, an economic issue:
- Rough roads cost people more in vehicle maintenance: “Rough roads add an average of $335 to the annual cost of owning a car – in some cities an additional $740 more – due to damaged tires, suspensions and reduced fuel efficiency. Learn more from the 2009 “Rough Roads” report (53-page PDF).
- Congestion costs people time and money: The cost of congestion is more than $100 billion, nearly $750 for every commuter in the United States.” It also increases the costs of goods we buy. Learn more from the 2011 Mobility Study from the Texas Transportation Institute.
- Our economic competitors (and partners) continue to pour money into their infrastructure to sustain and increase their competitiveness in world trade. “Canada spends 4 percent of its GDP on transportation investment and maintenance and China spends 9 percent (compared to the U.S.’s 1.7 percent).” Learn more from the 2011 report “Falling Apart and Behind” from Building America’s Future.
The Fiscal Times has commented that
“If current federal and state government spending patterns continue. . .the country’s infrastructure deficiencies could result in the loss of more than 400,000 jobs by 2040, as businesses are forced to cut back to meet their added transportation expenses, according to the study. Within a decade, the economic costs to the country of a deteriorating infrastructure will increase by 82 percent, to $210 billion annually (“Infrastructure Spending Gap Will Cost More Jobs,” July 2011).
Standard & Poor’s recently issued a report “Increasingly Unpredictable Federal Funding Could Stall U.S. Transportation Infrastructure Projects,” and noted that
“since the start of the last recession, state and federal funding for transportation infrastructure has become increasingly unpredictable. This can result in a domino effect of severe consequences, to the economy and to public safety.” The report also” and that transportation investment has “a significant impact on GDP.”
Financial analyst John Jordan wrote recently that
“Industry analysts concur that increased infrastructure spending could help construction equipment makers like Caterpillar boost domestic growth. However, the analysts also warn that uncertainty over federal legislation is holding stocks back” (“Political Wrangling Creates Bumpy Road to Recovery,” Investor Uprising).
Certainly ALEC would be active in promoting transportation policies from its free-market perspective, right? Other philosophically-aligned groups certainly include a focus on transportation; click these links to see their work: the Reason Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, the Competitive Enterprise Foundation, and the Cato Institute. Philosophically-aligned state-based groups like the Washington Policy Center also include a focus on transportation.
So I searched the ALEC website and found…nothing. I searched using the terms “highway”, “transit” and “freight” and found nothing. Strange. Then I searched ALEC’s signature “Rich States, Poor States” report on economic competitiveness and again found no discussion of transportation. This may please some of you – particularly those who disagree with Reason, Heritage and others.
Here’s why all transportation stakeholders should hope ALEC begins looking at transportation policy.
ALEC clearly influences many state legislators across the country. If ALEC was to publish research and legislative proposals, it could get more legislators and stakeholders talking about transportation. And therein lies the opportunity for stakeholders to make the case for the needs and benefits of investing in transportation. The more people are talking about transportation policy, what’s good and bad about a proposal, the more people can be educated, and the more likely legislatures will at least debate and perhaps enact policies to dealing with funding and public agency accountability, transparency and performance measures.
When Reason and Heritage publish a report or story, supporters and detractors react. Transportation is in the news.
ALEC does have a competitor on the opposite side of the political spectrum, the Progressive States Network. It also doesn’t focus on transportation, though it summarizes state initiatives to invest in transportation in “State Job Creation Strategies for 2011” and looked at the issue in a 2007 Privatization report. However it seems to miss a great opportunity by basically ignoring transportation in “Blueprint for Economic Security 2012.”
A somewhat similar though non-partisan organization is the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). It has an entire committee devoted to transportation, and even publishes a monthly newsletter on the issue (see the March 2012 issue).
The Bottom Line: Now that ALEC is refocusing its efforts and staff, perhaps some of those resources can be dedicated to transportation and helping states figure out what can be done to move people and goods more quickly, safely and cleanly, given the terrible economic condition of most states. (Learn more about that in “States Continue to Feel Recession’s Impact” from the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities.)