Matthew Yglesias is complaining that too much transit is going towards rural states:

Only 16 percent of Americans live in rural areas, and the quantity is dropping, so naturally the U.S. Department of Transportation proudly announced today that “of the $500 million in TIGER 2012 funds available for grants, more than $120 million will go to critical projects in rural areas.”

This has been one of Yglesias’s ongoing things, the overspending in rural America. To be honest, in the case of transit, the Interstates out here are probably nicer than they need to be. They’re repaving the Interstate between Callie and Redstone when, to be honest, I hadn’t noticed the slightest bit of a problem. So I’m not entirely unsympathetic to his viewpoint.

He goes on…

You see this basic dynamic in all kinds of federal grant programs. Typically any kind of rational grant formula would fail to give money to rural areas in a manner that’s consistent with rural areas’ strength in the U.S. Senate. Therefore you end up with either implicit or explicit special set-asides for rural areas.

It’s an article of faith among many that because of that damnable Senate, we overspend in rural areas. There is some truth to it, but it’s actually more complicated than it appears. Per-capita spending in Montana and the Dakotas, for instance, ranges from somewhat to very high (between 12-30% more than the national average). However, public spending in Idaho is comparable to that of California (-10%) and Utah is downright cheap (-20%, only Minnesota gets less) despite the fact that they have two senators just like everywhere else (it should be noted that the Dakotas and Montana have reservations and not-insignificant military spending). Wyoming is a special case, bringing in a lot of money due on account of its natural resources and the NMLA. Take that out (and we should, since that’s merely kicking half of their money back to them) and they’re somewhere below average. If the senate were as powerful as they say in the making of donor states and beneficiary states, this would not really be the case.

He does have a point with the low unemployment rates.

On Yglesias’s other point, we don’t traditionally spend federal funds in accordance with who delivers the taxation. There are some attempts at this, with Social Security and whatnot, and there are government favors that rich people buy, but it’s not our organizing principle. We try to hand it out according to economic need, and per-capita transit (for example) is going to cost more in rural places than urban ones. Complaints that they’re not “earning their keep” are not ones liberals make when applied to people they don’t already disfavor. To be fair, it may be in our interest to invest more in economic hotspots and areas of economic growth with an eye towards spurring people to move there, but rural America does provide our food and they are going to need services that are expensive on a per-capita rate. If we want to reduce food consumption, denying infrastructure investment isn’t a good way of doing that. Eliminating farm subsidies is (which, as far as I know, Yglesias does not oppose).

Disclosure: Well duh, I live in a rural place. This not a permanent arrangement and it’s unlikely that we will end up in a place as rural as we are now.

Category: Newsroom, Statehouse

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One Response to Rural Outlays

  1. Peter says:

    It’s a lot cheaper and quicker building highways in rural areas compared to cities.

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