Pete Buttigieg’s slush fund, Part Two

Earlier this month, I wrote about “Pete Buttigieg’s slush fund” — billions of dollars appropriated by the infrastructure bill that, as John Fund reported, allows the Secretary of Transportation to direct funds to combat climate change and “inequities caused by past transportation projects.” I argued that the goal of combatting past transportation inequities — of which, to be sure, there have been some — is a pretext for favoring Democratic constituencies, especially black voters, a group that showed no interest in voting for Buttigieg in 2020.

This Washington Post article doesn’t beat around the bush on the Buttigieg gambit. It acknowledges that Buttigieg’s “role overseeing hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure investments puts [him] at the center of the Biden administration’s chief accomplishment with implications for his boss’s future and his own.” The Post also acknowledges Buttigieg’s “struggle” to gain Black support and predicts that the slush fund (my term, not the Post’s) will be “especially helpful politically to Buttigieg” in overcoming that problem. (We’ll see.)

This New York Times article provides more information on the Buttigieg slush fund and unintentionally raises additional concerns about it. The article quantifies the slush fund. We learn that the infrastructure bill includes $660 billion in money for roads, bridges, and alike that will be distributed directly to states and disbursed at their discretion, but also includes $211 billion in discretionary grants that require approval by the Department of Transportation.

This apportionment is a compromise. Democrats want to focus on repairing old roads, rather than building new ones that would encourage the development of suburbs and exurbs. In fact, the Times tells us that Peter DeFazio, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, originally pushed to include language that would make it difficult for states to use the federal funds on highway expansion.

That effort failed. However, criteria like “climate change,” “environmental justice,” and “racial equity” provide Biden/Buttigieg with a means of preventing a goodly portion of the money to be used for new roads, in furtherance of DeFazio’s goal of blocking natural development.

The Times article indicates that the Republicans who voted for the infrastructure bill wanted all of the money to be sent directly to the states to be spent as they see fit, which, of course, would not preclude consideration of the interests of inner city residents and environmentalists. In the end, they compromised. They did, however, force Dems to agree that $93 billion of the slush fund (around 45 percent of it) will be subject to future congressional approval.

What we ended up with, though, is something like a transportation equivalent of Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH). The feds use AFFH to influence, and maybe control, where people live, and to undermine the autonomy of suburbs.

Pete Buttigieg can now dispense $93 billion in infrastructure money, and maybe as much as $211 billion, to influence development patterns in ways that disfavor the suburbs and exurbs. There can be no doubt that this is exactly what Buttigieg intends to do.

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