What are rescissions (and why are they far worse than flat tires?)

The federal government is a big funder of critical transportation infrastructure—including infrastructure and safety improvements for bikes.  That’s why we’ve been active at the federal level on the next federal transportation bill.  But what the Feds giveth they often take away. State Transportation Departments from across the land occasionally have to send back unspent funds—“rescinding” the funds—to help the USDOT clear the books.

Here’s the rub.  The Feds decide how much money each state returns, but the states decide where the money comes from.  Some states give back proportionately so that, say, unspent highway funds come back at the same level as ped or bike safety funding.  But many states don’t play this way—including Washington state (supposedly the #1 state for bicycling).  Instead, a rather disproportionate amount of money comes from things like Transportation Enhancements (TE), Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) and Recreational Trails funds—which happen to be the largest buckets for bike and ped projects.  In 2010, over $900 million of $2.2 billion was returned from these sources.  This is not a slow leak, but a nasty snake bite.  Insta-flat.

Where are we now?  Last week, they asked for $2.5 billion back, including $43 million from Washington state.  By July 8, WSDOT has to fork over the cash.  So while we consider how to address this at the legislative level during the 2012 session (we’ve also already talked with several of our congressional members about this), the Governor needs to hear from us before we’re riding our rims to death.